Fallston coach Dave Cesky says quarterback Jake Kuzma does many things well.
In that case, if the senior quarterback looked comfortable running one of Harford County's top offenses last season, then Kuzma (800 yards passing, 10 touchdowns in 1999) is poised to again put up big numbers for the Cougars.
Add the return of leading rusher, senior Dave Gonano (1,000-plus yards), several quality receivers and a veteran offensive line, and Fallston figures to make things tough on opposing defenses this season.
Even a stingy secondary remains nearly intact.
"We were primarily a running team last year, but we're going to open things up this season," said Cesky, whose team finished 9-1 last season and tied for the school's first-ever county championship.
The challenge for defending co-champion North Harford is playing without the label of unknown. The Hawks took the league by storm last season with a school-record nine wins and the program's first county title, allowing just over 10 points a game. The Hawks return eight starters, but both the offensive and defensive lines were wiped out by graduation. At least coach Fred Myers has senior quarterback Pat Starleper back, but he has been slowed by an early-season injury.
"Last season we caught a lot of teams by surprise but that element is definitely gone now," Myers said.
Bel Air and C. Milton Wright are out to show that their sub-par seasons a year ago, 4-5 and 7-3, respectively, were just an aberration. The Bobcats figure to have an easier time as a majority of their skill-position players are back, including quarterback Brian Lipski, running back Dan Lissimore and receiver-defensive back Dan Keckler, all seniors. Lipski is a threat to both run and pass, while Keckler caught 21 passes last season. The key is whether Bel Air can control the line of scrimmage.
The schedule, which opens with Georgetown Prep, Urbana and Middletown, Del., will pose a challenge.
The Mustangs are inexperienced and have their smallest lines in nearly a decade. However, coach Steve Harwood's squad is better athletically and has two solid junior quarterbacks. The emphasis has been on improving the defense, which surrendered a league-worst 270 total yards (220 rushing) a game last season. History says when the Mustangs win with defense, they're in the hunt for a league championship.
Attention is what Joppatowne has gained and Aberdeen hopes to get back this season. The Mariners boast the league's leading rusher in senior Bryant Jones (1,250 yards), senior tight end Dave Brown, who had 30 receptions and led the league in punting last season, and offensive and defensive lines that average 250 pounds, thanks to senior guard-defensive end James Murray (6 feet, 280 pounds) and junior tackle Phillip Tilman (6-3, 318). And expect Joppatowne's defense to be quicker and more physical this season, said Mariners coach Greg Komondor.
Don't expect to see the same Eagles squad that has failed to make the playoffs since 1997. New coach Joe Harbert vows to put a charge in Aberdeen with a revamped offense and defense. The Eagles look to bully opposing defenses with a backfield of seniors Jai Lewis (6-6, 225) and Mike Miller (6-1, 215). Senior quarterback Alan Holmes can run and pass and senior running back RB Tristan Stanley led the league in scoring a year ago. Lewis, a defensive end, and Miller, a linebacker, also anchor a defense that intends to use more muscle.
"Our whole motivating factor has been that many think we're closer to the bottom than the top," said Harbert, who was an assistant for two years under former coach Kevin Reilly.
Edgewood anticipates a lot of on-the-job training with more youth than experience, and without the usual athleticism. Senior running back Travis Higgins will carry much of the load of offense. The Rams' schedule also has been beefed up with games against Hickey, Potomac and Elkton.
Havre de Grace coach John Brooks takes comfort in knowing his team is ahead of schedule over last year, yet experience remains low. With as many as three running backs and a quarterback (senior Jovan Brooks) that can run, Brooks hopes for improved offense.
Harford Tech lost all nine games in 1999, but coach Tom Nelson anticipates a higher level of play - and a few wins. Nelson said the effort is there if not the execution.
John Carroll, of the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference, must replace 12 seniors, including a four-year starter at quarterback. The strength is on defense, led by seniors Nick Perry (6-0, 215) and Matt Black (5-11, 180). The Patriots also have a bonus in kicker Nick Quisgard.