Hereford's Todd Leitzel is no longer the Bulls' fastest man.
No, for the first time in his four seasons as a starter, the defensive back-running back has got competition as the Bulls try to win their fourth Baltimore County 1A-2A League crown in the past five seasons with what its coaching staff calls "more speed than ever."
But where the Bulls have dominated small-school competition recently, this year could be the one during which rising programs at Catonsville and Western Tech keep chase.
The Randallstown Rams, on the other hand, look to be the class of the Baltimore County 3A-4A League, coming off their second straight state semifinal berth. They return eight offensive starters and another five on defense, the latter being the domain of two-time All-Metro linebacker Mykle Bouie.
In the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association's A Conference, Loyola coach Joe Brune will be playing catch-up with Gilman and Mount St. Joseph.
Brune earned career win No. 200 last season with a year-ending victory over MIAA A rival Calvert Hall in their annual Thanksgiving Day game.
The Dons have a good chance to improve on last year's record as Brune, 66, enters his 33rd year as the Baltimore City/County area's dean of coaches.
In MIAA B Conference action, three-time defending champ McDonogh graduated All-Metros T. C. Cosby (linebacker) and Eric King (running back-defensive back) and probably does not have as much depth as it did in 1999.
But the Eagles have plenty of size, beginning with second-team all-city/county kicker-punter-quarterback Joe Benson, who stands 6 feet 6 and weighs nearly 200 pounds, and two-way lineman Kellan Williams (6-4, 245).
Among the Eagles' stiffest challengers will be St. Paul's, which had won 19 straight games, including two MIAA B Conference crowns, before McDonogh began dominating the league three years ago.
Back to Hereford in the public school's 1A-2A league. Coach Steve Turnbaugh will miss two-time All-Metro linemen C. J. Feldheim (Maryland) and Adam Hendrix (Delaware), in addition to some 12 or so other starters who graduated.
But linebacker Ray Causey, lineman Chris Parker (6-4, 280), and quarterback Austin Page (6-0, 185) are veterans who should blend nicely with the talent up from a JV program that went undefeated.
Wide receiver Matt Simms (6-0, 200), running back Billy Wright (5-10, 236), Bret Wehnart (6-0, 260) and running back-kicker Mike Rostek (6-0, 200) are among the newcomers who have excelled like veterans.
Hereford's chief competition should come from the other end of the county in Catonsville, from two programs that are barely separated by a one-minute drive.
Both Catonsville and Western Tech went 8-2 last season and return loads of talent.
Catonsville has a backfield that includes Chris Wilson (6-2, 245) and Josh Desmond (6-1, 217), who will run behind Chris Freeman (6-0, 265), Jon Dowdle (6-0, 245), tight end P. J. Schaffer (5-10, 205), center Kyle Holden (6-0, 225) and guard Ryan Donovan (6-2, 215).
"The biggest strength is our offensive line," said coach Warren Como, who also has Bobby Wissman and Kyle Ford, who weigh 265 and 220, respectively, among his offensive linemen.
Catonsville's kicker-wide receiver, Jeff Graves, a 6-2, 170-pounder who runs a 4.6-second 40-yard dash, is among the nation's best punters according to Rivals100 recruiting service.
Graves will be complemented by receivers such as Chris Washington and indoor track sprinter Jerrell Ward, while linebacker Craig Ripple (6-3, 225) leads the defense.
Western Tech's Dominique Foxworth is the Baltimore area's most highly sought-after player, having clocked the fastest 40-yard dash times in three different summer camps.
The senior is among eight offensive starters who return and nine who are back on defense to a team that lost only to Hereford and Catonsville.
The Wolverines' All-Metro receiver Joe Cromwell, now at James Madison, has not left a void: Receivers Zack Oleszczuk (6-1, 190) and Julian Brandon will do nicely in his place.
Anchoring things on the other side of the ball for the Wolverines are defensive end Adam Terrell (6-2, 246), linebackers Ryan Heaney and Ian Gosnell and defensive tackles Lloyd Miller (6-1, 315) and David Ferguson (6-0, 255).
Other programs in the 1A-2A League, such as Lansdowne, Overlea, Pikesville and Towson should be interesting to watch.
Second-team all-city/county receiver Clement Sorgho, a 6-4, 190-pound all-city/county basketball player, leads Pikesville, which went 7-3 and earned its first playoff berth in school history.
Overlea's first-year coach R. J. Windows has replaced retired Terry Ward (168-116-2 career) and feels he can equal or even surpass last year's 6-4 finish.
Lansdowne should improve on last season's 2-8 record, as coach Ted Bell returns six offensive starters, seven on defense and looks to take advantage of even more talent up from a 7-2 JV.
For Randallstown of the 3A-4A, Bouie also will contribute offensively, joining returning running backs Tyese Ademluyi and Davon Johnson in the backfield. Receiver Gary Bates (6-3, 175) should improve on his four touchdowns of a year ago.
Will Epps (270 pounds), Randy Vince (6-2, 240) and Darion Williams (6-2, 250) represent one of the county's strongest corps of linemen for the Rams.
Randallstown leads the county in playoff berths with 12, but has not played to its potential, according to coach Anthony Knox, in its most recent appearances.
The Rams blew an early lead in a first-round loss to Poly in the 2A state playoffs in 1997, then lost excruciatingly close decisions to Fort Hill and Thomas Stone, respectively, in the past two showings.
"I'm trying to instill in our kids that there's more to life than just playing well in the county," Knox said. "I'm trying to get them to play more with a chip on their shoulders."
To that end, the Rams open with Howard County power, Wilde Lake, a five-time state champion.
Defending 3A-4A champ Milford Mill has graduated two-time All-Metro quarterback Richard Johnson along with his favorite receivers, Renard Stancil and Brandon Thompson, and All-Metro linebacker Muhummad Howard.
But there's plenty of speed within the Millers' ranks, starting with fullback Jason Price, a 6-foot, 200-pounder.
"We're not where we were last year," said Milford Mill coach Reggie Brooks, "but teams still have to beat us."
Teams capable of toppling the Millers other than Randallstown include Woodlawn, Dundalk, Parkville, Eastern Tech and perhaps Patapsco in what should be a very balanced league.
Woodlawn, an underacheiver at 5-5 last season, graduated All-Metro quarterback-defensive back Vince Fuller and his favorite receiver, Noel Duhaney.
But the Warriors return eight starters.
Second-team all-city/county lineman Jesse Hayes (6-3, 300), Jobert Dobson (6-3, 330) and receiver-cornerback Alante Harrison are three-year starters coach Reggie White can build around.
Dundalk, whose highlights of a 7-3 season were wins over Eastern Tech and Woodlawn, graduated All-Metro lineman Chad Rogers and, "3,500 yards of offense" that included second-team all-city/county linebacker-running back Esker Mance.
But the Owls should benefit from the momentum of last year and the return of six offensive starters and four on defense.
Dundalk coach Eric Webber calls Kenwood transfer running back, Jose Rose, "the real deal," and he'll run behind tight end Kirk Crowe (6-4, 235) and a line that averages 230 pounds.
Parkville graduated All-Metro running back Mike Hall, who led the state in rushing and took the Knights to the program's best-ever record at 6-4.
But things could get even better, says coach Rick Zentz.
Division I lineman prospect, Evan Kautauskas (6-4, 235) will go both ways for a program that returns seven starters on offense and six on defense.
Luther Washington (6-0, 195), a blocking back for Hall last year, will be the focal point. Receiver Brian Bush and running back Mike Miller lend balance to the Parkville offense.
Eastern Tech slipped to 7-3 one year after going 12-1 and finishing as 3A state runners-up during the program's best year in 1998. The Mavericks of coach Bruce Strunk have graduated All-Metros Jerome Owens (running back-defensive back) and Steve Lawston (receiver-defensive back).
Seniors Berket Godsey (running back), Zach Lipsey (tight end-linebacker), Wayne Douglas (running back-defensive back) and Justin Kimble (defensive end) will be the leaders, but the true strength is among the underclassmen.
Junior Brad Newell (6-0, 175), an excellent place-kicker, steps in at quarterback behind a massive line that includes Kimble, junior Billy Farmer (6-4, 240) and sophomores Don Godack (6-1, 275) and Dan Williams (6-1, 270).
Junior Broderick Maybank will lend his talents in the backfield.
Patapsco coach Al Bennetta likes what he sees with a 24-player turnout that is large by the program's standards -- the most since 1993.
The Indians' third-year defensive back-wide receiver Calvin Wilson is coming off a season in which he intercepted six passes and quarterbacked the team.
Joe Melucci takes over at quarterback this year, and Wilson moves to where he's dangerous. Patapsco should play the role of spoiler in improving on last year's 3-7 record.
Dulaney has one of the nation's best kickers in second-team All-Metro place-kicker Trevor MacMeekin. Still, the Lions, 0-20 over in the past two seasons, face an uphill climb.
Amid rumors coach Joe Brune would be forced to resign after last season, the Loyola administration granted his wish to stay on for two more seasons.
"We're going to be playing with kids with a lot of experience, but how well we do depends on the quarterback situation," said Brune, who has J. G. Guidera and Marcus Frisby competing for that spot.
Running back Mike Alfone, nose guard Aaron DeGraffenreidt (6-3, 290), Andrew Countiss (6-3, 230) and defensive end Ramses Cloud (6-2, 195) are among the 17 sometime starters who should make the Dons difficult to look past in the MIAA A Conference.
St. Paul's is in the hunt for MIAA B king McDonogh despite graduating All-Metro linebacker Jon Berrier and second-team all-city/county running back Donnell Stewart.
"We return 13 starters with more depth than before," said coach Brian Abbott said. "We can be better."
Third-year starting receiver, Walter Hill (6-1, 180) may have the best hands in the MIAA B Conference's Silver Division.
And quarterback Brenden Gill, a 6-1, 185-pounder, returns for his second full season as a starter after throwing for 900 yards and nine scores.
Running back Grant Halford (6-0, 200) and linebacker Kris Kogelschatz (6-0, 200) return for their third starting seasons for St. Paul's.
First-year Boys' Latin coach Brad Best tries to improve on last year's 0-7 season while competing in the MIAA B Conference's Gold Division. Best coached St. Mary's of Anne Arundel County to a No. 1 area ranking -- the program's first -- in 1996.
Best lists linemen Chris Burrows, Evan Cameron, Trip Onnen, Evan Harcum, Chuck Murphy and Justin Dolan as the keys. They'll do the blocking for running backs Jerome Featherstone, Blake O'Shaughnessy and Oais Pomhe.