/TC Back in August, several of the county's football coaches speculated that, with so many fine seniors having graduated and so many younger players taking their place, the county would see a dip in the quality of play this fall.
With the regular season ended, the level of play question may be open to debate, but one thing is clear. Many of the league's underclassmen -- the majority of them varsity newcomers -- took advantage of their increased playing time and emerged as outstanding players.
Take Centennial. The Eagles were the youngest team in the county, with only 10 seniors on their 36-player roster. And they often played like an immature team en route a 3-7 record. But they became competitive, losing four of their six county games by a combined 23 points.
They did it primarily with youngsters. Centennial's seven leading tacklers were underclassmen, and they were led by two sophomores who could be among the county's best next year. Linebacker Kevin O'Connor (25 solo tackles, 75 assists, four fumble recoveries) and defensive end Robbie Hauff (26 solos, 55 assists) had great seasons. And watch 5-11, 280-pound sophomore offensive tackle John O'Connor. A broken leg at midseason ended his season, but he'll anchor Centennial's line next year.
"We committed to the underclassmen early, and we made progress," Centennial coach Ed Holshue said. "I don't know what the future holds, though, because everybody else has got some [young talent], too."
The examples abound. At Glenelg, senior halfback Paul Brosenne (1,442 yards rushing) provided much of the show. But the Gladiators wouldn't be facing Damascus tonight in their first trip to the playoffs in seven years without key contributions from their youth brigade.
Junior offensive linemen Marc Bolea, Joe Lupo and Jeremy Smith opened holes for Brosenne. Sophomore QB Sean LookingBill (60-for-112, 704 yards, five TDs) gave the offense some balance. And sophomore Chris Cordisco (73 tackles, two interceptions, two fumble recoveries) became one of the county's best outside linebackers.
Howard (7-3) would not have won its last five games without one of the top players in the county, junior running back/linebacker Guy Smith (1,119 yards rushing, 115 tackles). Junior RB Curtis McTavish (462 yards) and junior WR Carlton Fox (399 yards, five TDs) took some of the pressure off Smith. And sophomore QB Dalawn Parrish, who started the last five games, is a fine runner (27 carries, 105 yards, three TDs) and passer (39-for-70, 547 yards, five TDs).
Some coaches think Hammond junior linebacker Jimmy Jackson the best at his position. They might be right. The 5-9, 195-pounder made a school-record 153 tackles, including some of the more bone-jarring hits this side of Wilde Lake. He was the focal point of a Hammond (6-4) defense that had five shutouts and surrendered just 115 yards a game.
Jackson had company. Defensive linemen John White (junior), Justin Lavis (junior) and Jim Weston (sophomore) were instrumental in Hammond's success. White set a school record with 12 sacks, Weston had 78 tackles and five sacks, and Lavis had 51 tackles, including 10 for losses.
Wilde Lake (9-1) wouldn't be pursuing its third straight state title without some good young talent. Junior quarterback Seth Willingham (38-for-83, 716 yards, four TDs) and junior halfback .. Mike Green (936 yards rushing, 13 TDs) accounted for a huge chunk of the Wildecats' offense that averaged 30 points.
Oakland Mills (3-7), Atholton (3-7) and Mount Hebron (1-9) had forgettable seasons, but each team produced glimpses of an encouraging future.
Linebackers Nick Canjea (sophomore) and Matt Fadrowski (junior) stepped into starting roles and became the top tacklers for Hebron. Canjea led the Vikings with 68 tackles, despite playing only eight games. Fadrowski had 57 tackles, four sacks and two fumble recoveries.
Junior Matt Treese gave Atholton a big-play threat at wide receiver. He parlayed 15 catches into 258 yards (17-yard average) and two TDs.
And Oakland Mills can expect to improve from its worst season in 15 years. Junior RB Damion Smith rushed for 926 yards and five TDs in eight games. Sophomore tight end Lang Wethington caught 16 passes for 207 yards. And sophomore linebacker Jake Daft (33 tackles) made a late bid for next year's starting QB job. In the last two games, Daft passed for 81 yards and a TD, and ran for scores from 40 and 25 yards.
Speaking of Oakland Mills, a rough season got worse this week, when the Scorpions learned one of their players had forged his birth certificate and had been ineligible while playing nine games. The Scorpions had to forfeit their victories over Centennial and Atholton. Their season-ending 15-6 victory over Hebron will stand, because the 19-year-old senior did not play.
"At least we got to keep that one," said coach Ken Klock, whose Scorpions are officially 1-9, their worst record since 1974. "Talk about a bad year. When you go 3-7, then lose two more games after the season is over, you know you've had a bad season."
Finally, the county produced three 1,000-yard rushers. Brosenne passed the total a month ago, but Guy Smith and Hebron senior Travis Harriston needed big finishes.
Smith went over the top with 212 yards and three TDs Saturday in a 34-20 victory over Atholton. Harriston had the season's most explosive finish. In his last two games, he carried 59 times for 449 yards to finish with 1,054 yards and nine TDs. He rushed for 311 yards two weeks ago in a losing effort against Atholton.