1. Mount St. Joseph -- The Gaels, last year's No. 4-ranked team and Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference co-champ with Gilman, return 16 starters from an 8-1 squad. The two-year totals of junior QB Lucas Phillips (2,585 passing yards, 23 TDs) have him on pace to break the state passing yardage record (5,826 yards). Also returning are RB Archie Wannamaker (1,009 rushing yards, 11 TDs) and second-team All-Metro WR Danny Rosewag, who had nearly 1,000 receiving yards for 10 TDs. Led by DeVaughan Mellerson, Riverdale Baptist transfer Ben Dyer and tight ends Gary Moore and Loren Phillips, the Gaels' linemen average 245 pounds offensively and 235 defensively.

2. North County -- The 4A state champion Knights begin the year ranked higher than ever and for good reason. Offensively five two-year starters return in receivers Corey Wright (jr., 19 receptions, 248 yards, one TD), Ryan Ross (sr., nine receptions, 158 yards, two TDs), Chris Mangum (jr., 27 receptions, 349 yards, three TDs) and Maurice Bowie (sr., 15 receptions, 219 yards, one TD), along with junior G Richard Allen, one of three 230-pound junior linemen. Junior QB Mike Evans is a Glen Burnie transfer whom sixth-year coach Chuck Markiewicz calls "technically the best we've had." Defensively, Bowie and CB Cornelius Burley are three-year starters. Two-year starting S Toney Fowlkes, younger brother of 1993 All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year Troy Fowlkes, is an All-Metro track performer. LB Cesar Romero returns for his third year. "The secondary and our receivers are probably our strength at this point," said Markiewicz, who is 46-11 at North County (63-24 overall). "At this point, we're better than we were last year."

3. City -- City, a 2A program after going 8-2 at 3A last year, returns its entire backfield of junior QB Mike Johnson, junior RB Taber Small (1,200 yards, 12 TDs) and All-City senior RB Damian Beane (935 yards, 12 TDs). They'll run behind a line that is anchored by C Chris Perkins and OG Quantay Johnson. Also back are WR-DB Kevin Griffin (14 receptions, five TDs) and second-team All-City LB Jemini Jones, last year's top tackler who bench presses over 300 pounds. "I like what I see," said coach George Petrides.

4. Dunbar -- Dunbar went 12-0 last year, finishing as the city's first state champ and with the area's No. 1 ranking. Although 17 seniors, including four All-Metros and one second-teamer, have graduated, the Poets return senior All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year Tommy Polley, who has 42 career sacks. Senior QB Anthony Wiggins (1,571 passing yards, 10 TDs) returns, as does junior RB Ali Culpepper, who rushed for 1,072 yards and six TDs and returned four punts for TDs. The Poets also boast two-way linemen Deon Johnson, Dwayne Green and Antar Simsel. But coach Stanley Mitchell has questions about his depth that should be answered early by a tough schedule of opponents from outside of the area, including Archbishop Carroll, ranked No. 4 preseason by The Washington Post.

5. Poly -- The Engineers graduated three All-Metros and a second-teamer who made up the bulk of their offense and defense, but return a corps of linemen who average 260 pounds -- C Mike Bayne, DG/OT Anthony Mason, OT Nick Ramey and OG Andre Rollins. Behind a massive line, RB Willie Hudson and RB John Pierre will be "the two biggest backs we've had in a long time," said Waibel. LB Mike Brown is the top returning defenseman from last year's 9-2 squad.

6. Gilman -- Gilman tied Mount St. Joseph for last year's MIAA A title. But gone from the Greyhounds' lineup is the most explosive offense the school has seen in years. QB Russell Wrenn, the son of Patterson coach Roger Wrenn, should step right in for graduated second-team All-Met Lorne Smith, and linemen Whit Warlow, John Battaglia, Chase Martin, and LBs Packer Rodgers and John Wise will try to lead Gilman in a return to defensive dominance. "We have some offensive linemen who block very well, and we like the way Wrenn throws," said coach Sherm Bristow. "Plus, we hope to be better defensively."

7. Oakland Mills -- The Howard County champs and 2A state semifinalists are loaded with talent, beginning with second-team All-Metro QB Irving Conwell, one of four returning All-Howard County players and 10 starters. Conwell passed for 1,301 yards and nine TDs. RB/DB Fardan Carter rushed for 291 yards, had 321 more as a receiver, and had 292 yards on kickoff returns. FB/LB Brian Howard (51 tackles, 202 yards rushing) and DB Casey Moffett (four interceptions, 46 tackles) make the Scorpions the best team in the county. Howard, is a 3.9 student, scored 1,380 on the SAT and is being recruited by a number of Division I programs.

8. Patterson -- Three first-team All-Metros and one second-teamer are graduated from last year's 4A state semifinalist, but coach Roger Wrenn returns eight starters, five of them two-way players. Second-team All-Metro LB Rahim Booth was the No. 2 tackler with 91. LB Dwayne Simmons was the fourth-leading tackler, and second-team All-City lineman Terry Otto (262) is a three-year starter who will joined by Pat Stafford on a line that averages 250 pounds. WR Carnest Peele moves to QB to replace Willie McGirt (now at Virginia Tech), and WR/K/P Mike Jaski kicked four field goals last year and has 4.6 speed in the 40.

9. C. Milton Wright -- The Mustangs (3A state semifinalists last year at 10-2) return eight starters -- five on defense. Coach Steve Harward, who shared his fifth straight Harford County title last year with Aberdeen, returns senior All-Metro WR/DB Duane Fisher, a Division I prospect who had an area-leading 11 interceptions last year. Fisher also was last year's quarterback. Juniors Todd Shilow and Ryan Sheck are battling for the QB spot this year. RB Todd Baylor (900 yards, six TDs) will run behind a massive line of Rob Bennett, Chris Lau, Jay Kramer, Scott Rudolph and possibly sophomore Brian Rodriguez. On defense, All-County LB Ted May joins DB Pete Fountain, who intercepted five passes last year, two for TDs.

10. Aberdeen -- From a team that went 9-2 and reached the 2A state playoffs, the Eagles return little size, but have depth at several positions and plenty of speed. The latter begins with senior RB/DB Dondre Gilliam (1,028 rushing yards, 15 TDs), a second-team All-Metro in both football and track. Backfield mate Keith Marshall (555 yards, nine TDs) also was brilliant defensively with 85 tackles (29 solo). WR/DB Mark Stevens, WR/DB Doug Gordon (65 tackles, 25 solo, four interceptions) and Andy Gasdia combined for 18 receptions, 419 yards and eight TDs last year and should raise those numbers. However, Gasdia won't play much at WR if he wins a four-way battle at QB. Starting two-way linemen Scipio Osborne (232 pounds), Joe Stegemann, and Gary Sims return, as do LB Eric Henderson (68 tackles, 29 solo), LB Cliff Simmons, DE Al Johnson and TE-DE Mike Harris.

11. Severna Park -- The Falcons (8-3 last year) were 4A state quarterfinal losers to Largo. They have lost All-Metro RB/DB Mark Frye to graduation. So for the first time in the 23-year tenure of coach Andy Borland, the Falcons will implement a one-back offense that centers around sophomore QB Greg Korwek (a reserve last year) and junior QB Mike O'Malley. Senior WR-RB Craig Cohen and sophomore WR Josh Cornett will be their primary targets. Senior RB/LB Jihad Morris will be a key on both sides of the ball, and second-team All-County OG/DT Jimmy Henson and LB/OG Joe Cornett will help C Chad Roberts on the line.

12. Loyola -- The Dons finished third behind Mount St. Joseph and Gilman in the MIAA A Conference last season and figure to challenge those teams again. Senior linebackers Ryan Burch, Shannon Young and Rory Maher will lead a defense that held Mount St. Joseph to 21 points in a game last season, the Gaels' second lowest total in a near 40-point per-game season. Senior TE/DB Todd Pivec and C/DB Michael Latchford also return. Sophomore QB Brant Hall will run the offense.

13. Wilde Lake -- The Wildecats featured a young team that took its lumps early last season but won its last four games (two by shutouts) to finish 6-4. Based on the strength of that finish they are expected to challenge Oakland Mills for the Howard County title. The Wildecats return 11 starters, including QB Jeff Johnson, OT Josh Vanderwagen, RB Dain Lewis, FB Kyle Leibe, RB Sean Jefferson and TE Tony Jackson. Lewis, Jackson and Vanderwagen, all juniors, are touted by coach Doug DuVall as potential Division I college players.

14. Perry Hall -- The Gators are the early favorite to win the Baltimore County 3A-4A League championship. Senior Kevin Znamirowski, a three-year starter, is one of the area's top quarterbacks. Other returnees include senior running back Haki Lee, senior receiver Kamau McCray and junior tight end Chris Zorn. Senior Chaz DeGalleford will lead a defense that allowed fewer than 14 points per game last season.

15. Arundel -- The Wildcats (8-3 last year) made the 4A state playoffs for the first time in nearly 10 years and return second-team All-Metro LB/RB John Norsworthy (110 tackles) from a squad that split with North County last season. Second-team All-County DE/RB Joe Williams is back to bolster the defense. The Wildcats have junior QB Erik Lipton back to run the Delaware wing-T. Second-team All-County DB Mike McKnight is back, along with DB Bill Clyburn to anchor the secondary. OT Charles Kite will key the rebuilding of the offensive line.

How the poll is conducted: The Football Top 15 is compiled by the local sports staff of The Baltimore Sun.

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