Baltimore County All-Stars coach Rick Zentz agrees with Roger Wrenn about the purpose of this afternoon's 12th annual Greater Baltimore Football Classic at Johns Hopkins.
Both coaches see the 12:30 p.m. exhibition at Homewood Field as an opportunity for Baltimore-area schools to showcase their seniors in front of relatives, friends, classmates and a host of college scouts.
But for Zentz, and the county All-Stars, there is a little more at stake, namely a six-game losing streak that they would like to end and one the Maryland Scholastic Association All-Stars would like to extend.
"I want the kids to enjoy themselves and I want to see everyone get their share of playing time, but I don't want to go in with the preconceived notion of shooting ourselves in the foot," said Zentz, who led Chesapeake-BC to an 8-2 record in his first season. "If it's a tight ballgame in the fourth quarter and we have a chance of ending [the losing streak], we'll stay with the front-line people and try and get the W."
Wrenn, who will coach the MSA team as a reward for leading his Patterson team to the MSA B Conference title last season, tried to downplay the importance of the outcome and the streak, but realizes that that's an impossible task when dealing with the caliber of athletes on the two teams.
"The most important thing is not who wins the game," Wrenn said, "but don't get me wrong, we're trying to win."
Each player who dresses for the game is aware of the scouts who will be on hand and many are aware of some of the past heroes of the game, such as Carlton Bailey, a 1983 Woodlawn graduate who went on to star with the University of North Carolina and the Buffalo Bills and who now earns $1 million a year playing linebacker for the New York Giants.
Dan Ross, a 6-foot-4, 240-pound linebacker from Towson, doesn't know all the history of the Greater Baltimore Football Classic. But he is aware of the MSA's 8-3 lead in the series and hopes to contribute to narrowing that margin.
"I'm motivated because people underestimate the county," said Ross, who recorded 98 tackles and four sacks this season. "We want to prove to the MSA that we can play ball, and this is a chance for the county to show them something."
Dundalk's Richard Venker is expected to start at quarterback for the county, but with coaches required to start completely different teams in the first and second quarters, he will eventually be spelled by Overlea's Bernard Fitchette or Chesapeake's Jermaine Johnson.
Ali Smith, playing offensive tackle for the MSA, will be Friends School's first representative in the 12-year history of the game.
Gilman's Mark Cornes and Teron Matthews of City will rotate calling signals for the MSA offense. Wrenn says either quarterback can get the job done.
"As far as ability goes, there isn't much difference between the two," Wrenn said. "We'll be in good shape either way."
Cornes and Matthews will have a number of reliable targets, including Matthews' favorite wide receiver and first-team All Metro selection Dwight Banks. Banks had 43 catches for 902 yards and 13 touchdowns in leading City to a 9-2 record and a Class 3A state-playoff appearance in the school's first year of eligibility.
"My only goal is to beat the county, and I think that's everyone's goal," Banks said. "I think we match up well with them. They have some good athletes, but I still believe the city schools are the best. We're confident, and we want to keep the tradition alive."
From what Zentz has seen and heard of the two teams, he believes the MSA contingent has a slight advantage in size and was proud to say that his team boasted comparable speed.
"Size-wise, they might be bigger than us, but I think we match up with them speed-wise," he said. "They have some kids who can flat-out fly, and I've been pleasantly surprised to see that we have some kids with the same kind of speed, which should make for a high-scoring and exciting game."