Coach Anthony Knox doesn't have to reach too far back to recall just how dire the situation was for the Reginald F. Lewis football team.
Accepting the job days before the start of last season, the former Poly and Randallstown coach found himself with barely enough players to field a team, and many of those seemed less than dedicated.
"The kids were not really receptive to working hard," Knox said. "It was a struggle."
These days, however, that attitude has been replaced by something different - a desire to prove themselves as winners. Lewis, which shares the old Northern High building with W.E.B. Du Bois, has won six games, more than its total victories the past two years combined.
After allowing 21 points per game a year ago, the Falcons, under the revamped defense of new assistant Izell Gayles, have allowed an average of 4.4, including three shutouts.
"You have to lose games to appreciate how it feels to win," said Cedric Rollins, a senior linebacker/fullback. "Losing made us real hungry. We just wanted to see what winning tasted like."
The Falcons (6-1) host Northwestern (6-1) tomorrow in a game that will go a long way toward deciding the Baltimore City Division II champion. Both teams are unbeaten in the league.
Lewis' offense is led by the backfield tandem of Damon Barber-Jones (585 yards) and Rollins (395 yards, four touchdowns). Rollins (40 tackles) and Omari Thomas (four interceptions) lead the defense, which consists of most of the same players from last season.
"These kids are just learning how to win. This is all new to them," Knox said. "Once you give them a taste of winning, they will do anything they need to keep that going. Now they walk with their chest up."
Taking it indoors
The boys soccer coaches at Patterson and Poly try to schedule at least one game each year against a tough opponent from outside the Baltimore City League, but they have another idea about how to build their programs and the rest in the city - an indoor league.
"If we can continue to have other teams [in the city] build up talent and play all year long," Poly coach Nick Greer said, "that's only going to help the program. Not just Poly. Not just Patterson. The city has good players, and if we could get that going, it could make the city more than what it is at this point."
This season, it's all Patterson and Poly. The two split their regular-season games and will share the city championship. Poly won outright last year and Patterson the year before.
Harry Martin said it has been a hot rivalry for all 11 years he has coached Patterson.
"It's one of those situations where no matter how much talent you have or how much of a talent difference there is between the two teams, you're always going to get a hard-fought game," Martin said.
Patterson, led by N'Fagi Kabba, Joe Mirabile and Paul Kwenah, won the first meeting, 3-1. The Engineers, behind Bash Kamara, Michael Webb and Luis Bernasconi, later avenged that, 2-1.
Kenwood's volleyball team has been creeping up on the competition over the past few years, and the Bluebirds will try to win their first division title since 1996 when they play host to No. 14 Dulaney at 5 this evening.
In seven seasons as the Bluebirds' head coach, Dennis Shields has run a program that has improved each year. Their 12-1 record is their best start ever.
Anchoring the Bluebirds are sisters Amina Jugo and Ajla Jugo, who fell in love with volleyball when they came to the United States from Bosnia five years ago.
Amina, a 5-foot-8 senior outside hitter, had 21 kills in Tuesday night's five-game victory over Hereford, while Ajla, a 5-5 sophomore outside hitter, had seven kills. Setter Sarah Cramer totaled 31 assists. Amanda Williams, Breanna Taylor and Annette Karanja also have been key contributors.
"We're really close as a team, and I think that's the best part," Amina said. "We have really good hitters, and our two captains, me and Annette, always try to bring the team together."