Wise football coach DaLawn Parrish can't say enough about the great experience he had playing high school football at Howard.
The Baltimore Sun's Defensive Player of the Year as a senior in 1994, Parrish was a free safety known for touchdown-saving tackles. He also played quarterback and returned punts. In his junior year, the Lions won the Howard County championship and qualified for the playoffs for the first time in 19 years.
Now, his alma mater is in the state championship game for the first time since 1975. Parrish is happy about that -- to a point.
His alma mater is about to face his team when Howard plays Wise for the Class 4A football championship Friday at 7:30 p.m. at M&T Bank Stadium. Both teams are 13-0.
"Every coach, every former player wants to see their high school, college, even their Little League team do well. It's exciting but at the same time, I have a responsibility on this side. Some people look at it and say, 'Oh, you can't lose in this situation.' Oh yes I can," Parrish said with a laugh.
"I have some experience coaching against [the Lions] when I coached against them at Wilde Lake [as an assistant coach], so I'm pretty much over that part. I'm a proud alumnus, supporter and very happy that they're in the championship, but I'm also a competitor and responsible for another program where I've made my home."
The only coach Wise has had in its 10 years as a varsity program in Prince George's County, Parrish has taken the Pumas to the state playoffs eight years in a row. This is their fourth trip to the title game and they aim to add a second championship to their 2012 title.
Coming out of Howard, Parrish was recruited by Penn State, North Carolina State and Rutgers as well as Wake Forest, where he was an honorable mention All-Atlantic Coast Conference defensive back as a senior. He was also named to the ACC All-Academic Team for four years.
He has three fondest memories of his playing days with the Lions, including beating Wilde Lake his junior year after the Wildecats had won the state title the previous fall and qualifying for postseason his junior year when the playoff system only included eight teams.
His third fond memory is of helping the Lions basketball team make the playoffs after about an eight-year drought and winning the first game.
"I loved Howard High School. I loved the people. I loved my teammates, my teachers. It was a great experience. I don't really have anything negative to say about Howard High. My teammates, I loved them to death. It was a family atmosphere. We still keep in touch today. We still have close bonds. I had a great time," said Parrish, who also spent a year as an assistant coach with the Lions.
Now that Howard has come back to prominence -- the Lions reached the state semifinals last season -- many former Lions are likely preparing to cheer on the alma mater Friday night.
Except for the one who is plotting against them.