Most fans are ready for some high school football, but a lot of you will have to wait until after Labor Day to see your team in action. Public school teams cannot play until Sept. 6. Private school teams always kick off earlier and some got started last weekend, with more starting this weekend. That means it's time to start rolling out the projections for this season's Top 5.
Throughout the week, The Baltimore Sun will count down the top five teams leading up to No. 1 on Thursday. The entire Top 15 poll along with the top players to watch will be published Friday in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com.
No. 5 Old Mill
Coach: Chad McCormick
Last season: 9-3, No. 9
Postseason: 4A East region finalist
Key players: RB-S Marcus Hicks, Sr.; QB Brady Ludwig, Jr.; TB/LB Donovan Franklin, Jr.; TE-DE Martin Hayes, Sr.; OL Matt Powell, Sr.; OL Adam Albrecht, Sr., TE-LB Noah Fitzgerald, Jr.; LB-DE-S James Venerable, Jr.
Outlook: The Patriots suffered their usual big turnover to graduation, but they still bring back a load of talented players with game experience. Nine players who started most or all of the time return on offense and seven on defense.
"It's been a bit nicer this year," McCormick said. "We have a much more experienced team. Last year, we started five sophomores. These kids are pretty knowledgeable about our system."
They hit the ground running in preseason practice, and it's a good thing, because their schedule includes a who's who of Anne Arundel County in the first four weeks – Broadneck, Arundel, Meade and South River. That stretch will go a long way toward determining who wins the county title as well as who qualifies for the four-team playoffs in a Class 4A East region that includes all five.
The Patriots won state titles in 2009 and 2011, but Meade ended their run last season in the regional final, 28-21, with a touchdown in the final 22 seconds.
All-Metro safety Marcus Hicks, 5 feet 10, 170 pounds, leads a defense packed with versatile skill players. Also a running back, Hicks contributed on offense and special teams, scoring touchdowns by kick return, punt return, rushing, receiving and converting a fumble recovery.
Franklin, the county indoor track champ in the 55-meter dash, is back at outside linebacker with Hayes at defensive end. Other key returning players include junior Malik Hicks and Aqeel Mooring at linebacker, senior Evan Connor on the line and seniors Rakeem Owens and Josh Piper at cornerback.
Offensively, Ludwig has many options beyond Marcus Hicks. Devin Salisbury will run at tailback and in the Patriots' I-formation, McCormick said he's lining up as many fullbacks as possible including Malik Hicks and senior John Kim.
Hayes will double as a defensive end. Three offensive guards also return, Powell, who will play on the left side. Albrecht could also play center or senior Anthony Parks could convert to tackle.
In addition, McCormick said, he has two players who will be "everywhere." Fitzgerald will see time at wide out, tailback and linebacker and he's also the back-up quarterback. Venerable could line up at defensive end, outside linebacker or safety.
Also back is senior kicker Brady Hannon, who played in the 2011 state championship game but missed much of last season with an injury.
McCormick is optimistic about the season with so many returnees as well as a group of youngsters pushing them for playing time.
"We have a talented group and the majority of our starters were juniors and sophomores last year," McCormick said. "That's key for us. We were able to get our installations in on offense and defense a little ahead of schedule. We were able to get a little more detailed when last year we were just able to see where people fit the best."
The Patriots open the season Sept. 6 at Broadneck.