Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills will pace a 10-team Howard County league that produced five state champions in the 1990s - more than any other Baltimore metro jurisdiction.
Wilde Lake, state champs in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1997, as well as 1985, graduated four All-County players but returns two all-county players, running back Mario Merrills, and center Billy Hawken.
"Mario has made the biggest advance from junior to senior year of any player I've had," said longtime coach Doug DuVall.
The Wildecats, county co-champs with a 9-2 overall record last season, have a line that averages 260 pounds and four quick running backs, including Mount Hebron transfer Christian James, but must replace their quarterback.
Oakland Mills quarterback J. T. Rembert returns to lead the Scorpions on another Class 1A state title chase. Coach Ken Hovet's Scorpions won their only state title in 1998 and were on track last season until an ineligible player cost them five victories, leaving them a 2-8 record.
Oakland Mills returns seven defensive starters and nine offensive starters, including five offensive linemen led by all-county Robert Scott. The Scorpions have size, experience and athleticism.
Long Reach, hoping to win it all last season, failed to achieve its dream, finishing second in the county with a 7-3 record. Coach Pete Hughes' Lightning graduated three all-county players and returns just three offensive and three defensive starters.
The Lightning has three Division I recruits on its offensive line, however, including Jamie Burckhadt, Eugene Franklin and Lake Braddock transfer Mike Zyvoloski.
Howard beat Wilde Lake, soared to a county co-championship with the Wildecats and made it to the state semifinals with a 10-2 record, their best season in 25 years, led by Penn State recruit Gerald Smith and Howard County coach of the Year Vince Parnell.
The Lions return plenty of offense with all-county fullback Travis Irving, quarterback Boomer Durham, tight end Adam Snyder, center Matt Drake and guard Jonathan Hall. Add outstanding running back Gerrick McPhearson, a transfer from Cardinal Gibbons, and the Lions could be looking at a repeat.
River Hill heads into its fifth season coming off a school-best 7-3 record. The Hawks, under new coach Brian Van Deusen, must replace two 1,000-yard rushers, but return junior quarterback Matt Hostettler, tight end Chris Kupec and two third-year varsity starting linemen, Scott Cannon and Spencer Wilson. Linebacker and guard Adrian Cmerek transferred from Howard, making the line River Hill's strength as the Hawks strive to remain among the top five county squads.
Glenelg, stunned by the recent automobile death of leading receiver J. T. Smart, will try to rally behind receiver Chris Bowen, quarterback Kevin Ganiscioli, linemen Rob LaHayne and Alex Martinez and linebacker Andrew Garland.
Hammond's new coach Bill Smith has pumped some enthusiasm into the Bears, who return most of their offense and half of their defense from a 1-9 team. The Bears have speed with Tye and Taj Murphy at tailback and Jamal Stewart at running back. Jason Maxey is a veteran quarterback. Offensive tackle Camillo Quiroz, a transfer from Atholton, will help linemen Kenton Dunsen and Kevin Schwartz carve out holes.
Centennial hopes to improve on a 2-8 record, led by quarterback Pat McKevitt, fullback Wyatt Cooper and running back Ryan Pustilnik.
Mount Hebron graduated 20 seniors from a 4-6 team, and with only three starting seniors, are the youngest team in the league. But quarterback Matt Fallon returns for coach Larry Luthe. Linemen Adam Binaut, Colin O'Brien and Chris Maruyama form the core of an offense.
Atholton has doubled the size of its squad from 17 two years ago to 34 this season. Quantity helps, but coach Kevin Kelly's Raiders must prove they also have quality following a 3-7 season.
Leading tackler Mark Carbone returns at linebacker, Wayne Reed is back at quarterback and almost the entire offensive line also returns, led by Robert Olson, Brian Calvery, Greg Inocencio and Brandon Boring.