When Overlea High quarterback Bernard Fitchette needs yardage in a hurry, he knows where to look.
A hand signal to his center later, Fitchette usually is running free in the opposing secondary, ducking and --ing his way to a first down or a touchdown. Courtesy of Mike Knoedler.
"That's my favorite play, that quarterback keeper," Knoedler said. "Bernard will tap my inside leg, then hold onto my belt and just follow me down the field. He can hide behind me, and when he's ready to make his move, go in any direction."
The 6-foot-3, 260-pound Knoedler plays in Fitchette's shadow, but he has been an enormous part of the Falcons' success the last three seasons and a huge reason unbeaten Overlea appears headed for its 10th consecutive Class 2A regional tournament.
"Mike was a right playful kid the first couple of years he was with us," said Overlea line coach Elmer Dize. "Now he's all business."
Knoedler was always big. The Overlea-Fullerton Recreation Council banned him for two years because he had outgrown the competition. At age 12, he was almost 6 feet tall and weighed 190 pounds.
Now, at 18 and sporting size 15 shoes, he is being contacted by major college football programs such as Nebraska, but isn't ready to commit to any school yet.
"Quite a few are looking at me," he said. "At the moment, I don't have much time for any of them. I think they like my size. And my experience."
Knoedler, an all-City/County selection last fall, plays both ways -- he's a defensive tackle -- but prefers offense.
"You always seem to have an advantage on offense," said Knoedler. "You know where the ball is going to go and you can get in some really good licks. And, as a center, you're involved in every snap."
Dize said, "His snaps are so hard, our kickers often can't hold them. I think he could play big-time football. He has the build and he has really come a long way in his desire. He really wants it now."
That was evidenced during the preseason when he fractured a toe and was supposed to be sidelined six weeks.
With rehabilitative help at Towson Sports Medicine, he missed two scrimmages and was ready for the season opener.
"They wanted to put a pin in it, but I just took therapy [before and after practices]," he said.
The senior grew up just off Kenwood Avenue several blocks from the school.
His brother Shawn played guard at Calvert Hall and is now at Frostburg State, although he is not playing football.
A B-minus student, academics will not be a problem in his advancement, and he has junked playing lacrosse because he didn't want to risk an injury that would jeopardize the football career. He also is the heavyweight on Overlea's wrestling team.
"Sometimes I could gain some yards as big as the holes are that Mike creates," said head coach Terry Ward. "It's people like him who are the reasons every one of our tailbacks has gained 1,000 yards for 11 straight years."
Knoedler did an excellent blocking job against Chesapeake's Lamar King when the Falcons won their key game last week, several days after they collectively shaved their heads.
"We just felt the team was spreading apart, going into little groups," said Knoedler. "So we had to do something and almost everybody shaved the head. We'll probably have them for the playoffs, too. But you see that a lot in college as well."
Knoedler attended the University of Maryland's camp and came back to Overlea this autumn a changed person.
"He returned to us with a lot of enthusiasm and leadership ability," said Dize. "Now, he knows how to find the right guy and block him out of there. Center has never been a real strong position for us. Mike's the pick of the litter."