We've made it to No. 3 in The Baltimore Sun's rollout of the Top 5 preseason varsity football teams.
Anne Arundel County champion Broadneck came in at No. 5 with two-time defending Class 3A state champion Franklin at No. 4. No. 2 will be revealed Tuesday and No. 1 on Wednesday. The Sun's Top 15 along with players to watch will be published Thursday in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com.
First game: Severna Park at home, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
Players to Watch: QB David Marrocco, Sr.; RB Pete Boone, Sr.; SB-LB Camari Wilkerson, Sr.; FB Cody Bostic, Sr.; OL Chris Wissman, Sr.; OL Evan Dunn, Sr.; TE-DE Lavarr Holbrook, Sr.; OL Malcolm Diggs, Sr.; K Chris Walker, Sr.
Outlook: The Patriots came close to winning their third state championship in six years last fall, but were thwarted by Northwest's fourth-quarter fake punt and fell 34-31 in the final. That ended an 11-game winning streak.
With a large contingent of experienced players, including Marrocco and most of the offensive line, the Patriots think they have what it takes to bring home the title this year.
"Expectations are high for us," said McCormick, last season's All-Metro Coach of the Year. "Not too many people walk by and ask if we're going to make the playoffs. They ask, 'Are you going to win a state championship?' That kind of pressure is good to have, but it keeps you awake at night. It's something the kids respond well to. We've been in the playoffs for 16 straight years and no team wants to be the team that doesn't accomplish that. Their goal is to work toward that state level."
Returning Marrocco and a huge offensive line is a pretty good start.
Marrocco, 6-foot, 185 pounds, passed for over 1,200 yards last season, including 229 yards and two touchdowns in the title-game loss to Northwest. Still the Patriots rely predominantly on the run and top running back Donovan Franklin graduated. Boone, who was second in carries with about 75 last season, and fullback Bostic are ready to carry much of the load.
Old Mill also has a solid group of receivers, including Wilkerson and bookend 6-5 tight ends Devin Purvis and Mason Clark. The Patriots also picked up Sirus Gay, a transfer from Pallotti who could see time at running back and slot as well as linebacker.
The Patriots offensive line is one of the biggest in the area, returning center Wissman, 6-3, 305; tackle Dunn, 6-2, 298; guard Diggs, 5-9, 245; and tackle Holbrook, 6-2, 280. They also have juniors Stan McCombs, 6-5, 315; and Justin Umstot, 6-foot, 200. Last season, the line was all new and was one of the biggest weaknesses in an 0-2 start. Now, it may be Old Mill's biggest strength.
Defensively, the Patriots saw significant turnover in the starting lineup with just five players back, but many of last year's reserves got plenty of playing time.
Holbrook, Mason Grim, Nate Bowditch, Ahmad Harvey and Jamal Boadu all saw time on the defensive line last season while Grimm has been working at middle linebacker. Antwon Bailey, Miles Gaither and Tim Valentine are also linebackers with Wilkerson, Kenaurd Tharpe and Kyre Adams at defensive back. Boone started at safety last season, but his rushing chores likely will limit his time on defense.
The Patriots also return one of the area's best kickers in second-team All-Metro selection Chris Walker, who booted a 26-yard field goal in the state final and tied a state record in the 26-0 regional semifinal win over Broadneck.
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The schedule maker gives the Patriots a break after two straight years of starting the season with a run of the other top three teams in Anne Arundel County, Broadneck, Arundel and Meade. Last year, the Patriots lost to Broadneck and Arundel to start 0-2, leaving them clinging to the brink of playoff elimination. They slipped into the fourth-seeded spot and avenged both losses in the regional playoffs.
This year, they meet Arundel in Week 4, Sept. 25, and play Broadneck and Meade in late October.
With a more seasoned team, McCormick laughed when he said this would be the year to get those teams early, but all of those games could all be battles no matter when they're played.
"The biggest thing is we have to take care of the football and continue to improve every day at practice if we're going to be at the level we want to be at at the end of the season," McCormick said. "We were four points away from winning the state championship, but we can't rest on those accomplishments. Everyone is after us. All those little things -- if you don't do them well, any team is likely to beat you."