The trend in county football is toward more scoring and exceptionally gifted, offensive-minded athletes.
Last season, four quarterbacks passed for 1,000 yards and three running backs rushed for 1,000 yards.
This season, Oakland Mills, Hammond and Wilde Lake each appear ready to produce at least one 1,000-yard performer and to battle for the county title.
The season should resemble 1994 in many ways.
There's another All-American and another substantial group of impact players -- the kind that complete that crucial third-down pass, gain that tough yard with the game on the line, make that impossible catch.
It's likely that, in another tight race, Oakland Mills will win another county championship, although you'll get plenty of arguments from Wilde Lake and Hammond.
The All-American this season, following in DaLawn Parrish's footsteps, is Hammond quarterback Tim Spruill, who earned that honor from Super Prep Magazine. He and Oakland Mills quarterback Irving Conwell are the returning impact players that have proven themselves with both their athleticism and their eye-popping stats. Both passed for more than 1,000 yards.
"There will be a lot of great teams in the county this fall," Spruill said, "but I see Hammond, Oakland Mills and Wilde Lake as the three best. All three are going to want to put up points, and defenses will struggle somewhat around the county this year."
The 5-foot-10, 175-pound Spruill became the first county player to both rush and pass for more than 1,000 yards in the same season. He was 80-for-201 with 10 touchdowns and 1,132 yards in the air. On he ground he gained 1,038 yards and scored 10 touchdowns on 103 carries.
Spruill, a Baltimore Sun first-team All-Metro defensive back, played seven positions in all, catching an option pass for a touchdown, punting 17 times for 634 yards (37.2), returning nine kickoffs for 283 yards (33.0), including an 80- yard touchdown romp against Glenelg. As a defensive back, he made 41 tackles, recovered two fumbles and intercepted seven passes -- two for touchdowns.
His 4.45 speed in the 40-yard -- and his 36-inch vertical jump are just two of the many reasons that colleges are avidly pursuing him.
"He's the best player in the county," said Hammond coach Joe Russo who established a no-huddle shotgun offense to take advantage of Spruill's talents. "I think we have a legitimate shot to win it all. Our only question [offensively] is our new center and whether he can handle long snaps. "We have a lot of seniors on offense. And we'll be more sophisticated running the shotgun by being able to check off more."
Having Spruill naturally makes Russo's hopes soar.
"He's our captain, a four-year starter. He's always the first in line at practice and it's always, 'Yes, sir,'" Russo said. "During practice breaks, the kids on the junior varsity stare at him. They go over and stand next to him and whisper to one another -- that's Tim Spruill."
Spruill thinks he'll play better this season. "I'm better at reading defenses, my arm is more accurate and I'm more patient," he said. "We'll be very disciplined this year. We reported in shape because we lifted weights, ran sprints and ran one or two miles every day this summer.
"We also practiced our pass patterns, so we're not having any problems with people running the wrong patterns."
But on paper, Conwell's Oakland Mills team looks like the team to beat.
Conwell, a Baltimore Sun second-team All-Metro defensive back and repeat Baltimore Sun first-team All-County pick, made 37 tackles, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. He delivered some bone-crushing tackles.
As quarterback he completed 73-of-131 passes for 1,301 yards and nine touchdowns. He engineered a late scoring drive from inside the Oakland Mills 10-yard line to beat county runner-up Howard in the hardest-hitting game of the season. And in the regional playoff loss to Fort Hill, he completed 16 of 32 for 256 yards.
The Scorpions return nine starters and their four All-County players include: Conwell; Fardan Carter, a big-play athlete with 4.3 speed who caught 12 passes for 321 yards and three touchdowns, including the winning touchdown pass against Howard; Casey Moffett, who made 41 tackles, four interceptions (two for touchdowns) and made a game-saving tackle at the goal line on a conversion attempt by Howard; and Brian Howard, who made 51 tackles and rushed 26 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns.
"We're going to score a whole lot of points," said Conwell. "I think our team is better than last year. "I'll be trying to pick the defenses apart more this season and probably won't throw the home-run ball as much."
He's hoping the Scorpions can play at a higher level and possibly win a state title this season -- something that has eluded them in five previous playoff appearances. They lost in the state final once.
Spruill and Conwell are players who create an aura of excitement every time they take the field. There's an unpredictability about them that keeps fans on the edge of their seats.
And they are good friends. Conwell played for Hammond until transferring to Oakland Mills last season.
nTC As good as those two players and their teams are expected to be, they must face a rejuvenated Wilde Lake program that has won four state titles and 13 county championships. That kind of history is enough to create fear in opponents.
It has been back-to-back lean years for the Wildecats and veteran coach Doug DuVall. They are ready to bust out.
Returning quarterback Jeff Johnson, running backs Dain Lewis and Sean Jefferson, tight end Tony Jackson, and lineman Josh Vanderwagen promise to produce an offense that packs a solid punch.
DuVall thinks that Lewis, Jackson and Vanderwagen all eventually may play Division I college football. They are all juniors.
Of the five remaining teams, all are rebuilding, and all but one, Centennial, has a new head coach.