The 1996 class of Anne Arundel County football players is dominated by quality seniors who learned how to play the game through its best teacher, experience.
With more returning first- and second-team all-county players (21, 11 from first team) than at anytime since 1980, an increase in winning teams across the board is likely.
Local fans could be in for a real treat with the possibility of the most competitive league in recent memory.
All-county types normally make those around them better and this year should be no exception with a rash of quality players (including many who weren't all-county) returning for their senior years.
"Making the playoffs could come down to winning your non-league games," said Meade coach Jerry Hartman.
Anne Arundel was dominated by underclassmen in 1995 (12 all-county players, three first-teamers returned from '94) and as a result only four of the 12 public school teams and two of the three private schools posted winning seasons.
Arundel became only the 10th county team since 1960 to go 10-0 in the regular season, but the Wildcats were upset by Meade, 14-7, in the first round of the playoffs. Meade finished 8-4.
North County, the 1994 Class 4A state champion, missed a fifth straight playoff appearance, but was 7-3. Severna Park (6-4) was the county's only other winning public school team.
None of the county's four 2A/3A schools posted a winning mark or reached .500, while St. Mary's and Severn were 7-3 each.
The numbers prove that seasons beginning with a host of returning all-county players produce more winning teams.
Examples: 1993 (19 returning all-county, nine first team) -- seven public school winners, one private school winner; 1994 (15 and six) -- six public winners, including state champion North County, one private, three .500 teams; and 1987 (15 and five) -- seven public winners, one private winner.
The quality and experience is there for a '96 bumper crop of county teams.
"Most of the teams were rebuilding last year. It should be a really competitive league," said Severna Park coach Andy Borland, who is in his 24th season.
Arundel returns the county and possibly the metro area's top quarterback in Erik Lipton, and All-Metro pass receiver Joe Parker. But the Wildcats suffered huge losses on defense.
Most county coaches say Meade, North County and Severna Park pose the biggest threat to county and region champion Arundel.
Meade returns all-county second team linemen Danny Todd, George Houston and Justin Patton while North County welcomes back all-county and All-Metro lineman Richard Allen, all-county and second-team All-Metro linebacker Marvin Mobley, and all-county receivers Chris Mangum (second-team All-Metro) and Corey Wright. The Knights have 15 returning starters.
Second-team all-county lineman Chris Field and second-team kicker/linebacker Darrin McAlister are among 33 Severna Park returnees.
Annapolis, 4-6 a year ago, but returning practically everyone in the trenches on both sides of the ball, could be a fifth playoff contender in the East Region.
Chesapeake (4-6) just missed what would have been only the second winning season in school history and also boasts its share of quality seniors, including its second-team all-county linebacking duo of Rob Bookhamer and Alan Stroud.
Glen Burnie slipped from 6-4 to 5-5 and lost a lot to graduation, but returns all-county and second-team All-Metro defensive end Rickey Crawford and an athletic quarterback in Lenny Holmes.
If Old Mill (2-8) can improve with its four returning offensive linemen, there may be no breathers in the county 4A league.
Broadneck, the county's only 3A team, was 2-8 a year ago, but coach Jeff Herrick has 29 returning lettermen and optimism is high in Cape St. Claire.
A pair of 4-6 teams in Northeast and Southern could be ready to succeed. The former Eagles return the senior backfield duo of Rob Evans (second-team all-county) and Tyrone Eaton. Evans and Eaton combined for nearly 1,700 yards and 13 touchdowns last year.
Southern had one of its largest turnouts and is carrying 47 varsity players.
On the county private school scene, St. Mary's is the best of the lot. The Saints (7-3, 4-1) were MIAA A Conference tri-champions with Mount St. Joseph (9-1, 4-1) and Loyola (6-4, 4-1).
With eight returning starters on the Monte Graves-led defense and all-county back Rashi Reed on the other side of the ball, the Saints are primed for another run in the Baltimore league.
Severn (7-3) is short in numbers, but not in quality with junior quarterback Dennard Melton, a two-time all-county choice already, a striking force in the Admirals' option offense. The Admirals are an MIAA B Conference contender.
Considerable improvement is expected at Archbishop Spalding (3-7-1) with returning all-county punter/RB/LB Brian Judy as the main man.
The Cavaliers will no longer be a pushover in the MIAA B Conference.
2. Mount St. Joseph
3. C. Milton Wright
4. North County
6. St. Mary's
10. Milford Mill
14. Wilde Lake
15. Boys' Latin
Pub Date: 9/05/96