Hammond Golden Bears coach Joe Russo is banking on defense to give his squad another winning season.
Last year it went 7-3 overall and 4-3 in the league. The Bears have had just one losing season since 1986.
Seven of 11 starters return from last year's defense that allowed just eight points per game and recorded four shutouts.
Chief among those defenders is senior linebacker Jimmy Jackson (5 feet 10, 215 pounds), whose 119 tackles and 10 sacks earned him All-County honors from The Baltimore Sun. He also had one fumble recovery, one interception and 24 tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
Senior linebacker John White (6-2, 215) also should be tough coming off a season in which he led the team with 15 sacks.
BTC Then there's Justin Lavis (6-0, 240), a senior tackle and Baltimore Sun All-County pick who made 51 tackles.
Junior Jim Weston will play nose guard, and senior Pedro Barbosa (6-1, 240) is at tackle.
Senior Isaac Hunter is back at safety, and senior John Motley returns at defensive back.
Filling out the defense are junior Adrian Hayes at cornerback, senior Tory Reid at defensive end, sophomore Irving Crowell at safety and senior Mike Sargent at defensive end.
Although the defense figures to be strong, the offense may struggle, because all of Hammond's skill players are inexperienced.
"We won't be a potent offense," Russo said.
Russo thinks his team will pass 70 percent of the time with senior quarterback Jeff Price working out of an I-formation and throwing a lot to his running backs.
Those backs will include John White, Reid and Hunter. The tight end will be senior Kevin White. And the wide receivers will be Motley and senior Ryan Smith.
The offensive line includes tackles Lavis and Barbosa, center Weston and Jackson at guard.
Russo has only 20 varsity team members but will suit up four from the junior varsity for insurance each game.
"This is the smallest team in numbers and size that I've had," he said. "But I'm very positive about this team."
Russo has coached Hammond since 1986, compiling an 81-68 record.
The out-of-county schedule will be much tougher this season because three Baltimore County schools that the Bears have had great success with -- Owings Mills, Towson and Chesapeake -- dropped them.
In their place, Hammond plays Southern-AA (the only team to beat Wilde Lake last year), Bethesda-Chevy Chase and Good Counsel.