The race begins in Baltimore City football.
Patterson coach Roger Wrenn and Edmondson's Pete Pompey, whose programs are two-time defending champs in the City public schools' East and West Divisions, respectively, each have 182 career wins.
Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference power Gilman looks to remain unscathed against league competition in its quest for a third straight title.
And Cardinal Gibbons and Curley, recent conference doormats, will do battle in their chase to earn a title in the MIAA's newly formed B Conference Gold Division.
The Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association has been restructured. St. Mary's has left the A Conference for the B Conference, leaving only Gilman, Mount St. Joseph, Loyola and Calvert Hall in the A Conference.
The B Conference has been divided into two separate divisions. The Silver is comprised of John Carroll, McDonogh, Severn, St. Paul's, Spalding and St. Mary's. The Gold has Cardinal Gibbons, Archbishop Curley, Friends, Boys' Latin and St. Vincent Pallotti, formerly of the Washington, D.C. area's Washington Catholic Athletic Conference.
In the A Conference, Gilman enters the 2000 season having gone 26-3 under fourth-year coach Biff Poggi, including a 21-game winning streak.
The Greyhounds were coming off a 2-8 campaign in 1997 when Poggi took over for retired Sherm Bristow. He earned Baltimore City/County Co-Coach of the Year honors for taking Gilman through a 6-3 MIAA A Conference co-runner-up season.
Gone from last year's team, however, is two-time All-Metro quarterback Ryan Boyle, who ran the offense the past three years.
Also graduated is four-year starting All-Metro fullback-linebacker-nose guard, Mike Faust, The Sun's 1999-2000 Male Athlete of the Year. All-Metro tight end Richard Tuohey is at Brown.
But the Greyhounds return All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year Starrett Esworthy and linebacker and nose guard Dan Zito (6 feet 1, 240 pounds).
Gilman also has two towering defensive ends in 6-5 returnee Greg Lotz (225 pounds) and 6-5, 235-pound budding Division I prospect, Victor Abiamiri, who is only 14 years old.
Offensively, Gilman's top rushing junior running back returns in Malcolm Ruff (6-2, 220), who scored 12 touchdowns and rushed for 877 yards despite rarely playing after the third period. Wide receiver Napoleon Sykes is back after catching 17 passes for 393 yards and five touchdowns.
Poggi has a lot of confidence in Boyle's replacement, speedy, athletic sophomore Ambrose Wooden, who was regarded as one of the league's premier defensive backs last season and who earned second-team all-city/county baseball honors last spring.
Esworthy and senior Jason Lee will see time in the offensive backfield, which will be protected by Matt Turner and Mike Kutzer, a couple of 6-3, 255-pounders.
League rival Mount St. Joseph should be the Greyhounds' chief competition, with second-team All-Metro running back Isaac Kufour, quarterback Joe Peeler and three solid receivers among its eight returning offensive starters. The Gaels' entire offensive line returns intact.
"The thing that makes us dangerous is that we've got everybody back on the offensive line," said coach Mike Working. "There's some fierce competition there."
Although the Gaels' strength is offense, they're not exactly hurting, defensively, where linebackers James Danzler and A. J. Leonard, defensive end C. J. Scheilter (6-4, 245) and cornerback Joe Jenkins reside.
Gibbons and Curley are the favorites to win the Gold Division crown.
Coming off a 4-8 season, Gibbons coach Scott Ripley returns five offensive starters and four on defense, and benefits from the transfer from Oakland Mills of Howard County's speedy running back-receiver-defensive back Hassan Mohommad.
Wide receivers Mitchell Brown and Chris Stimmel, tight end Shawn Murphy (6-5, 210) and fullback Joe Chambers (6-0, 235) are part of an offense that should be difficult for league opponents to handle. Linebacker Matt Foster anchors the defense.
"We have a little bit of a lighter schedule and more speed with similar levels of technique to last year's team," Ripley said. "With around 21 of our 25 players having played before high school, that really helps."
Curley returns nine offensive starters and five more on defense to a program that has had only one winning season (6-4 in 1994) in 20 years.
The Friars' big gun is Division I wide-receiver prospect William Marcus (6-0, 170), who hauled in 52 passes for 750 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. The talent also includes senior quarter back Mike Armstrong (6-1, 175), two-way lineman Jack Herzog (6-4, 235) and running back Antonio Aybar, who rushed for 600 yards and seven touchdowns last season.
Two-time West Division champ Edmondson outscored its league opponents 25.1-12 with four shutouts last season, and took an 18-game winning streak into its 2A state title game loss to Urbana of Frederick County.
Pompey (182-87) is searching for a replacement for All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year Raytron Leak and All-Metros Justice McLeod (receiver-defensive back) and Eddie Colbert (quarterback).
"We've set our goals to win one game at a time, certainly to win the West Division," said Pompey, who enjoyed a turnout of 54 players. "But I think it'll be more difficult."
Linebacker Anthony Tucker, All-Metro defensive end Jason Murphy and linebacker-wide receiver Tavon Williams ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 6 among the Redskins' top tacklers last season.
On the other side of the ball, running back Darryl McCray rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 21 touchdowns, and versatile receiver-defensive back Danny Dixon contributed 12 more scores. He'll run this season behind 230-pound veterans David Dudley and Reggie Jones and Melvin Floyd (6-2, 320).
Forest Park and Walbrook appear to be the Redskins' chief competitors in the division, with Southern, coming off a 4-6 season, looking to improve.
The Foresters, of coach Obie Barnes, return eight offensive starters and six on defense.
"We have size, speed and not that many players going both ways," Barnes said.
Running back Arthur Minor, quarterback Dante Queen, cornerback Terrell Patterson and linebackers Anwar Shepherd and Mishawn Holt return to a Forest Park team that won four of its final five games.
Southern coach Jack Nehsmann, whose Bulldogs defeated Forest Park en route to going 4-6, returns 13 starters. Nehsmann puts his hopes upon players such as wide receiver Greg Green, running back Jamal Sassafrass, quarterback Neran Lewis, safety Mustafa Mohamed and fullback Dennis Fulwood.
In the City's East Division, Patterson's effort will likely revolve around 300-pound linemen Dominique Williams (6-6, 337), the Clippers' top tackler last year, and Matt Williams, each of whom are getting serious looks from Division I programs.
Dunbar has a Division I lineman prospect of its own in massive Antoine Colvin, who should emerge as a leader under coach Ben Eaton.
For City College, quarterback Lamar Manigo is the key. Manigo missed seven games due to a broken collarbone last season, but still managed to throw nine touchdowns. The Knights went 4-6.
Poly returns eight starters. Look for split end Jonathan Nash, receiver Marcellus Carrington and quarterback Tavon McGhee to be the keys.