PLAYERS OF THE YEAR OFFENSE -- Greg Mihalko, South Carroll, RB, Jr. -- When a football player thinks like Mihalko does, he's bound to be a lot of trouble for the opposition no matter how small he is. "I like to think I punish the tacklers when they try to stop me," said Mihalko (5 feet 9, 170 pounds). It was this mentality that made the versatile Mihalko a force for the Cavaliers on offense. He carried the ball 111 times for 628 yards, had 16 catches for 129 yards, scored nine touchdowns and a two-point conversion that beat Wilde Lake, 15-14, in the season opener, returned a kickoff 75 yards and a punt 80 yards for touchdowns. The touchdown run that will be remembered the most probably came against Westminster in the final game of the season when the Owls had Mihalko pinned for an apparent big loss. He somehow escaped four would-be tacklers with some incredible lateral moves and broke free for a 40-yard touchdown run. Even Westminster coach Jeff Oeming saluted Mihalko for that run. "It was unbelievable," said Oeming. "Mihalko has some great moves. He's a player."
DEFENSE -- Larry Devilbiss, Westminster, LB, Sr. -- This four-year starter clinched the county's top defensive award in the final game of the season against South Carroll (a 14-7 Westminster victory) when he made two brilliant tackles at the 2-inch line to keep the Cavaliers out of the end zone in the second quarter. It was the culmination of a season in which Devilbiss (5-11, 150) amassed 225 defensive points for his superb play. That was 65 more points than anybody else ever had in coach Jeff Oeming's six years at the school. To get an idea of how Devilbiss dominated the defense, the second-most points on the team this season was 101. The hard-hitting linebacker had 71 solo tackles and 46 assisted tackles this season, three interceptions, two fumble recoveries (returning one of them 43 yards) and four tackles for losses and averaged 32 yards punting. Oeming said Devilbiss definitely will play college football, either as a linebacker or defensive back, depending on which school he attends. "Some people just have a knack for hitting people hard no matter how small they are and Larry is one of these people,"
@COACH OF THE YEAR Jeff Oeming, Westminster -- Even though the Owls fell one game short of a .500 season (4-6), Oeming guided his team to the county championship with a 3-0 record and could have had a 6-4 record if Westminster had not lost by two points to Frederick and Woodlawn. After winning a total of just three games in 1991 and 1992, Oeming made the Owls a respectable team this season against what was another tough schedule that included 3A powers Thomas Johnson and Linganore and always-strong 4A opponent Annapolis. Oeming, who resigned after the season to take a break from football, has the Westminster program headed in the right direction with a lot of talented juniors who started this season returning in 1994. Four starting defensive linemen will be back, as will quarterback Steve Mays and three other offensive starters. Oeming said the Owls "made tremendous improvement all year long."
* Mike Arterburn, South Carroll, Sr., T -- The Cavaliers had the most success moving the ball this season when they ran behind Arterburn (5-11, 225), who was the only holdover from the team's massive offensive line last season. Arterburn has a zest for the game and an ability to block that is hard to match on the high-school level. An excellent trap blocker, Arterburn is a near-certain bet to play college football at some level.
* Chris DeGasperi, Westminster, Sr., RB -- This powerfully built runner (5-10, 190) preferred to run over defenders instead of around them. Coach Jeff Oeming tried to convince him to "dodge people" but DeGasperi never saw the benefit in that. He punished would-be tacklers for a county-leading 963 yards and seven touchdowns on 141 carries (6.8 yards per carry). DeGasperi bulked up in the off-season in the weight room and was bench-pressing over 300 pounds, making him a perfect fit for Westminster's grind-it-out offense. His ability to run inside opened up the outside for speedy Steve Kahler, making Westminster a good enough team to win the county title and come within four points of a 6-4 season.
Jeremy Esworthy, South Carroll, Jr., TE -- A perfect tight end for South Carroll's passing game. Esworthy (6-0, 185) could block, catch the ball, break tackles and run with the ball. He turned in strong games against Glenelg and Thomas Johnson. All his skills were on display on one play against Thomas Johnson when he caught the ball on an out pattern, broke three tackles and rambled for 60 yards. Cavaliers coach Gene Brown said Esworthy has great hands.
* Steve Kahler, Westminster, Sr., RB -- He went out in grand style in the last five games of his high-school career, rushing for 100 yards or more in each of those games. That spurt enabled Kahler to finish second in rushing in the county behind teammate DeGasperi. Kahler had 833 yards and seven touchdowns on 127 carries, and was known for his long touchdown jaunts. He broke loose against Liberty, North Carroll and South Carroll for touchdown runs of 50 yards or more, using the speed that made him a top performer on the Westminster track team (second-place finish in the state in the mile and member of the state champion 4 x 800-meter relay team).
* Tom Lapato, South Carroll, Jr., WR -- This slender junior (6-0, 165) burst onto the scene midway through the season with some superb sideline catches as the Cavaliers nearly upset powerful Linganore on the road. He caught nine passes for 119 yards against the Lancers in the sixth game and went on to record 33 receptions for 419 yards and one touchdown over the second half of the season. Coach Gene Brown fell in love with his passing game after that performance by Lapato and South Carroll quarterback Tom Luster. Lapato displayed outstanding concentration and a knack for catching the ball in a crowd. Brown said the only thing Lapato has to do now is "get a little stronger before next season." Lapato is a 4.0 student.
* Jon Lee, Westminster, Sr., T -- The Owls went to a three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust offense this season and that suited Lee just fine. He loved to block for power running back DeGasperi and would get mad if coach Jeff Oeming didn't have DeGasperi running behind him. Lee played every down and also was considered the best pass blocker on the team. He not only enjoyed blocking straight ahead for DeGasperi, but he was more than ready to pull out and block for speedy Steve Kahler.
* Tom Luster, South Carroll, Jr., QB -- When Luster and South Carroll went to a wide-open passing game midway through the season, it was an aerial show seldom seen in Carroll County. Luster completed 66 of 149 passes for 919 yards and five touchdowns. The only problem for Luster was that he was throwing the ball against the toughest teams on the Cavaliers' schedule and wound up having 10 intercepted.
* Donny Reynolds, Westminster, Sr., G -- He was considered something of a bookend with Lee on the Owls' offensive line that played a major role in the team's return to respectability this season. Reynolds was the best trap blocker on a team that trapped a lot and relied on a methodical ground game to win. A two-year starter, Reynolds was happiest when Westminster ran the ball behind him.
* Chris Richardson, Francis Scott Key, Jr., RB -- No matter what Richardson does the rest of his high-school career, he never will top the spectacular five-minute show he put on in the second quarter of a 21-20 victory over North Hagerstown. Richardson accounted for all three Eagles touchdowns in the game in that brief period. He returned back-to-back kickoffs 73 and 75 yards for touchdowns and he tossed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Jon Crooks. Richardson is the fastest player the Eagles have (4.8 seconds in the 40).
* Matt Study, Westminster, Jr., C -- The kind of center that every coach loves to have is the best way to describe Study. He was steady, never missed a game, rarely ever made a mistake and simply enjoyed doing the dirty little deeds that make a good offensive line click. Blocking for running backs DeGasperi and Kahler and quarterback Mays was satisfying enough for Study. He didn't need to have his name in lights. Study was superb in a big victory over Liberty that helped the Owls win the county title.
* Dave Tumblin, Liberty, Jr., G -- Tumblin was a natural offensive lineman who had good games all season long no matter how tough the competition. Good mobility allowed Tumblin to be superb in blocking on sweeps. He played every down for the Lions and had his top games against a tough Linganore team and Westminster.
* Mike Arterburn, South Carroll, Sr., Line -- One of only two players to make the first-team offense and defense, Arterburn just liked to hit people, whether it was on the offensive or defensive lines. He was involved in 72 tackles and was "there for us all year," said coach Gene Brown. Arterburn had his top game against Linganore, when the Cavaliers flirted with an upset in a game that seemed to take a lot out of South Carroll. The Cavs dropped to 4-2 after a tough 14-10 loss and lost the next four games to finish at 4-6. Arterburn plans to play college football next fall.
* Bill Beltz, North Carroll, Jr., Line -- Game after game, Beltz faced the true test of an athlete. He had to get himself ready to play even though he knew his team was probably going to get blown out that night. Beltz seemed to shrug off the losing atmosphere (20 straight setbacks over two seasons) and turned in one outstanding effort after another, finishing with 47 tackles on the season and four fumble recoveries. His top show came against Frederick when he had 18 tackles. In the face of adversity, Beltz remained a team leader until the end.
* Robert Buntin, Francis Scott Key, Jr., Line -- What happens when you mix a weightlifter with a non-stop energy football player? You get a Robert Buntin, who is good enough to be named to the All-Monocacy Valley League team as a defensive lineman even though he weighs only 155 pounds. South Hagerstown coach Greg Kellick voted for Buntin to keep a promise to his center. The frustrated Rebels center came off the field and told Kellick, "I can't block him [Buntin]." To which Kellick said: "Go back out there the next series and try again and if you can't block him, I'll vote for him for all-league." Buntin also blocked an extra-point attempt by North Hagerstown to save a 21-20 win and was involved in 100 tackles.
Brian Field, Liberty, Jr., LB -- In a season in which the Lions' defense struggled often, Field was the one consistent player who kept the other team relatively in check. He was involved in 70 tackles, the most on the team, and made his teammates believe they could play with a good Howard team. Field went into the Howard backfield and made a big hit on Howard's top running back Greg Smith. After that, the Liberty defense played its best game of the season.
* Matt Haines, Francis Scott Key, Sr., DB -- Haines had 85 tackles, four interceptions, three passes batted down, one blocked point after touchdown, one quarterback sack and one fumble recovery. The four interceptions tied him for the Monocacy Valley League lead. He was sensational in a 29-19 loss to Middletown that entered the game as a heavy favorite. He started at quarterback most of the season, but preferred to play defense. Said Key coach Mike Coons: "He just loves to hit people. He likes to find somebody with the ball and hit them. He'll play somewhere in college."
* Jed Harris, Westminster, Jr., Line -- Harris came to Westminster from the football hotbed of Kentucky and immediately became a standout lineman, making 22 solo tackles and assisting on 27 others. Harris loves football and has given up a chance to play high school basketball to concentrate on weight lifting in the off-season. He had a knack for getting fired up during a game and was known as the most aggressive defensive lineman on the team.
* Chris Lyerly, South Carroll, Sr., DB -- Lyerly played injured a lot of the season after being the county Defensive Player of the Year last season and a first-team All-Metro defensive-back selection. Lyerly was still good enough to record 70 tackles, eight tackles for losses and two interceptions. "He amazes me," said coach Gene Brown. "He was hurting, but I still think he had a great year."
* Mat Mathias, Westminster, Jr., Line -- He became an instant standout in his first season. Mathias used his height (6-5) to knock down four passes. He got stronger and stronger as the year went on and wound up with 22 solo and 28 assists. He also will be playing basketball for the Owls this season, and is one of the reasons the Westminster football team should reach or surpass the .500 mark next season.
* Greg Mihalko, South Carroll, Jr., DB -- He joins teammate Arterburn as the only players to earn first-team honors on offense and defense. Mihalko, the Offensive Player of the Year this season as a running back, turned around on defense and made three interceptions, several great saves of touchdowns by batting the ball away at the last second, and returned one interception for a touchdown. He's certainly the kind of player to build a team around, and coach Gene Brown will have that luxury
* Mike O'Connell, South Carroll, Sr., LB -- He led the defensive charge against Linganore and its superb running back Joey Seetoo, limiting Seetoo to a rather ordinary evening and giving the Cavaliers a chance to win. With the exception of a third-quarter touchdown drive, O'Connell and the South Carroll defense virtually shut down the Lancers, who won 14-10. The first Linganore touchdown came after the Lancers recovered a fumble deep in South Carroll territory. O'Connell had 18 tackles against Linganore and finished with 94 on the season. He also had four fumble recoveries, two sacks and one interception.
* Ryan O'Neill, South Carroll, Sr., LB -- He joined with O'Connell to give the Cavaliers an outstanding linebacking corps as the team went up against the Linganores, Thomas Johnsons, Damascuses and Fredericks week after week, a stretch of games that took its toll on this fairly young team. O'Neill was a big surprise with his 60 tackles, and he also doubled as a fullback for the Cavs, scoring two touchdowns against Frederick.