Doug DuVall turned his back to the action.
The Wilde Lake coach, who typically roams 5 yards onto the field to follow every play, had noticed Jason Dawns grimacing in pain on the sideline. DuVall abandoned his headset and straddled the bench. He rested his forehead on his fullback's brow and whispered: "Tough times go away. Tough people don't."
It's a glimpse of DuVall that has defined his program.
He's a motivator more than a strategist. A counselor more than a technician. A confidante more than a coach.
DuVall, 51, takes pride in his down-to-earth appeal, driving an oversized 1981 Dodge Ram pickup. The 6-foot-2, 280-pound physical education teacher has an authoritative presence, an old-school mentality and a methodical manner. The former offensive lineman is intimidating during locker-room tirades, yet tempers his style with boyish antics and nurturing ways.
So while many fans recognize DuVall for his area-best 215 victories, those who have passed through the program remember his triumphs off the field.
DuVall has guided players through poor grades, troublesome relationships and college decision-making.
When their finances are tight, DuVall finds players after-school jobs that won't interfere with practice. When family members die, the players rely on his compassion. When they get new girlfriends, they introduce them to their coach.
And when players aren't calling him at home nightly, their single mothers are phoning DuVall and asking him to intervene.
"I don't have a father, so I think of Coach DuVall as my father," junior receiver Comer Norwood said. "Whenever I have a problem, I go to him just like that. I talk to him as if he was my father."
DuVall's devotion to his players can have unexpected consequences: One night, his wife, Jan, arrived home and saw an unfamiliar car in the driveway.
"It's one of my player's," DuVall told her. "He'll get it back when his grades get better."
The bonds endure long after graduation. The DuValls have attended 27 weddings of former players.
"He makes you feel like you are part of a family," said Eric Brooks, a running back on DuVall's first varsity team in 1974 who attended the University of Kentucky on a football scholarship. Now a manager of a Circuit City, he named his 12-year-old son DuVall Brooks, after his coach. "It's not what he teaches you about football. It's what he teaches you about life."
Sometimes his team and his personal life conflict, but DuVall and his family find ways around it. His daughter, Beth, was due to give birth to his first grandchild last year on Aug. 15, which was also the first day of practice. She decided to have labor induced on Aug. 12 so the birth wouldn't overlap.
"We live football, but his true love is the kids," said Jan, who videotapes every game. "I always say: 'I have one daughter and I get 40-some new boys each year.' "
A calling to coach
The Wildecats don't win under DuVall; they win for him.
Wilde Lake has hoisted five state championship trophies, and it's not because of an intricate offensive system. The Wildecats have run the wishbone for the past 13 years, using virtually the same plays with few surprises.
Wilde Lake has captured 16 Howard County titles, and it's not because of its talent pool. Over the years, the Wildecats have won despite being smaller and slower, at times, than opponents.
The secret lies in the charisma of their coach, the son of a grounds supervisor at the Calvert Distillery in Relay. He has spent most of his life on the football field, playing at Howard High and West Chester State in Pennsylvania. But his calling became coaching, where his off-beat approach seizes his players' attention.
When his linemen weren't running laps fast enough in Tuesday's practice, DuVall borrowed an assistant coach's red Harley-Davidson motorcycle and rode beside his players, saying, "Pick it up, boys, or I'll run you down."
If his players need inspiration, DuVall tells them "life is unpredictable," recounting a eulogy he heard at a funeral for a player's mother. If they need motivation, he describes images from one of his favorite John Wayne movies, 1949's "Sands of Iwo Jima," shouting, "When you go to war together, you fight together and bleed together."
It's not his choice of words -- the speeches are filled with cliches -- but the meaning he gives them. Players look into his piercing eyes. They see the sweat forming and the fist clenched so hard that his knuckles become white.
"It's not what he says, but how he says it," said Dawns, the fullback who was injured a week ago. "His eyes are always looking at you. When you look at him, you feel his emotion."
"You just see the fire coming from him," receiver Nyema Wilson said. "I know I've started crying because he gets me so pumped up."
Thrown into the Lake
At 24, DuVall had mapped his future. He would spend his summer in England as a guest lecturer on American football and return home to resume graduate work at the University of Maryland, preparing for a college coaching career by helping out the Terrapins.
While in London, however, he received a call from Frank Rhodes, his junior high coach and mentor through high school. He had accepted a junior varsity job at Wilde Lake on DuVall's behalf, forging DuVall's name on the two-year contract because of a time crunch.
"I believe any coach or teacher got in this field because of a role model they had in school," DuVall said. "Frank Rhodes was mine. So I took the job."
Two years later, in 1974, he became varsity coach, inheriting a 2-7 team that was the homecoming opponent for seven schools.
Said DuVall: "We were so many people's homecoming that I thought we should have had our own float."
With no winning tradition at a high school that opened in 1971, DuVall showed films of Vince Lombardi and told his players to take pride in wearing green and yellow, the colors shared by Wilde Lake and Lombardi's Green Bay Packers.
"Look at how the Packers run their sweep," DuVall said. "Everyone knows what's coming. But it's based on execution and desire."
The Wildecats responded in DuVall's first season, producing a seven-win turnaround. Wilde Lake earned its first county crown two years later and celebrated its first state championship in 1985.
Like Lombardi, DuVall instructs his assistants on how to approach an opponent, but prefers to stay out of the offensive play-calling and specific defensive formations. When not overseeing the offensive line, he's directing his team's psyche.
During his passionate talks, DuVall has cried, cursed and cracked up locker rooms. In one rampage during the 1980s, he broke a field hockey stick over a trash can to make the point that his team was playing like garbage.
But DuVall has remained somewhat subdued with this year's team, which relies on technique more than emotion to win. Wilde Lake won its first two games against Bel Air and Hammond with ease before pressing DuVall into an outburst on Sept. 17 at Howard.
During warm-ups, DuVall sensed a lack of focus, telling one of his assistants, "It's going to be a long night."
At halftime, with the Wildecats trailing the Lions 7-6, DuVall broke the locker-room silence, ranting: "Do you think teams are going to roll over and play dead when you throw Wilde Lake jerseys out there?"
Walking down the line of seated players, DuVall stared into their eyes, banged their shoulder pads and continued: "Let me tell you something: You haven't earned wearing those jerseys yet. I want to look at that scoreboard at the end of the game and see three more touchdowns on the Wilde Lake side or your butts are in for a long week."
It only grew worse in the second half, as Wilde Lake continually turned the ball over. Howard won, 33-14, ending Wilde Lake's 30-game county win streak. DuVall glared at his players on the sideline as the final minutes wound down and had his shortest post-game team huddle of the season.
"We beat ourselves," DuVall said in a hoarse voice. "If you don't play, you can't expect to win."
Time to regroup
Wilde Lake cannot afford another loss and expect to make the state playoffs. That urgency was apparent before its next game against River Hill.
"You had a week of being a loser, a week to eat as a loser and a week to go to sleep as a loser," DuVall said, speaking deliberately. "Now you have to stand up at the end. The biggest game of the season is not the state championship game. It's today. Today, you become winners again."
The Wildecats did compete until the end, edging River Hill in overtime, 21-20. After the Hawks' failed point-after kick sealed Wilde Lake's victory, DuVall let out a heavy sigh and pumped his fist in the air.
"You guys played with a lot of character," he told his team. "The rest of our games will be steps to the championship game."
With strong performances against Atholton and Long Reach, Wilde Lake has raised its record to 5-1, but DuVall has shown less tolerance for mistakes in practice with each passing week.
When his reserve center forgot to block the linebacker on three separate occasions, DuVall took a blue marker and wrote "Trap" on the player's right forearm. The center didn't miss another blocking assignment the rest of the day.
Similarly, his intensity on game days has increased.
During last week's pre-game speech at Long Reach, DuVall stood on the bench in the crowded locker room, screaming until his face turned red while nearly punching in several lockers. During the game, after a fumble near the Wildecats' sideline, DuVall moved out onto the field, towering over the pile to scream: "We got that ball. We got that ball."
After the 20-14 win at Long Reach, DuVall was the last to board the bus and began a sing-song chant with the team. He ended by saying, "Lake, we didn't play as well as we could have, but let's still enjoy it."
Then DuVall returned home to Daniels, a town outside Ellicott City, to the big log cabin that he built himself atop a hill. He popped in the videotape of the game and watched the football program he constructed and the players he helped mold.
"He gives the players a feeling that they're worth something in life," said defensive coordinator Mike Harrison, who played under DuVall and has coached alongside him for the past eight seasons.
"He shows that they have a place in society. And if they work hard, their place is a good place."
The Baltimore area's 10 winningest active high school football coaches:
Name School W-L-T
Doug DuVall Wilde Lake 224-52
Joe Brune Loyola 197-127-4
Roger Wrenn Patterson 178-82-2
Pete Pompey Edmondson 176-88
Terry Ward Overlea 166-114-2
George Petrides City 144-91-1
Joe Russo Hammond 119-98
Steve Harward C. Milton Wright 118-33
Dave Cesky Fallston 118-101
Obie Barnes Forest Park 108-107-6
Doug DuVall file
Education: Graduated from Howard High and West Chester State (Pa.). Has Master of Physical Education degree from University of Maryland and Master of Education degree from Loyola College.
Family: Married to his wife, Jan, for 25 years. Has one daughter, Beth.
Year by year:
Year W-L Pct. Championship(s)
1974 9-1 .900
1975 6-4 .600
1976 8-2 .800 County
1977 9-1 .900 County
1978 8-2 .800
1979 6-4 .600
1980 8-2 .800 County
1981 8-2 .800 County
1983 8-1 .889 County
1984 9-1 .900 County
1985 11-2 .846 County, regional, state
1986 9-2 .818 County, regional
1987 5-5 .500
1988 8-3 .727 County, regional
1989 10-2 .833 County
1990 13-0 1.000 County, regional, state
1991 13-0 1.000 County, regional, state
1992 12-1 .923 County, regional, state
1993 5-6 .455
1994 6-4 .600
1995 7-3 .700
1996 10-1 .909 County, regiona
1997 13-0 1.000 County, regional, state
1998 9-2 .818 County
1999 5-1 .833
Tot. 215-52 .805 16 county, 8 regional, 5 state
Note: DuVall took 1982 off.
Wilde Lake has won five state titles since 1985, the most by any Baltimore-area school in that span and second in the state to Seneca Valley. The Wildecats are the only team in this region to win more than two championships during that period.
Seneca Valley 6
Wilde Lake 5