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High School sports

Baltimore Sun high school football preview: Storylines, players to watch and top 15 teams heading into 2022 season

Here’s what you need to know for the 2022 high school football season in the Baltimore area:

Storylines to watch

Nationally ranked and area No. 1 St. Frances is taking its show on the road.

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The top-ranked Panthers, coming off an 8-1 campaign, are ranked No. 3 nationally by MaxPreps and are in the top five in most other national publications. They open their 10-game slate with five out-of-state games from Sept. 3 to Oct. 4, going from Texas to Florida to South Carolina to Hawaii to Pennsylvania. It’s a daunting challenge for the Panthers, who will close out the season against Florida’s perennial national power IMG Academy in College Park. Panthers coach Messay Hailemariam has a consistent message to his team: Embrace the now, think about tomorrow and learn from yesterday.

St. Frances coach Messay Hailemariam watches his secondary players during tackling drills at Utz Field at Patterson Park earlier this month. The Panthers are ranked No. 3 in the country by MaxPreps.

For these three teams, the last step is the most challenging.

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Three area public teams — Dundalk, Milford Mill and South Carroll — fell one game short last season of their ultimate goal of winning a state crown. Milford Mill coach Reggie White calls the Millers’ 2022 campaign “unfinished business.” Each team has returning talent that gained valuable championship game experience and all have new faces in key roles. At Dundalk, defensive coordinator Tom Abel takes over for Matt Banta as head coach. Milford Mill looks to Mount Saint Joseph transfer Deshawn Purdie to lead the way at quarterback. And with standout quarterback Ryan Barnard graduated from South Carroll, the Cavaliers will bank on returnee Carter Mazalewski to take the helm.

Loyola Blakefield players hoist the trophy after defeating Calvert Hall, 41-35, in the 101st Turkey Bowl at Towson University's Johnny Unitas Stadium on Nov. 25, 2021. The Dons are moving up to the MIAA A Conference this season.

Loyola Blakefield looks to make a successful return to the MIAA A Conference.

After a five-year hiatus, the Dons return to A Conference play with an eye on being competitive in the area’s toughest league. They return coming off a high as they knocked off A Conference champion Calvert Hall, 41-35, in last year’s 101st Turkey Bowl. After winless A Conference marks in 2016 and 2017, the Dons, who were upset by Concordia Prep for the B title last year, decided to play an independent schedule in 2018 and then enjoyed a 9-3 campaign playing in the B last year. Loyola has won three A Conference titles, the last coming in 2008.

Transfers will play a big role.

Several proven players have found new homes this fall, transferring within the area and outside. Senior cornerback K.P. Price will play a big role at St. Frances after a fine junior season at Calvert Hall. The Panthers also added size and athleticism from Mount Saint Joseph in defensive end Julien Moutome and wide receiver-tight end Chase Wilkens. McDonogh took a hit along the offensive line with highly-rated guard Antonio Tripp off to Florida power IMG Academy.

Mervo football coach Patrick Nixon raises a fist as he looks toward fans after beating Dundalk in the Class 4A/3A state championship game on Dec. 2, 2021.

There are plenty of big games to watch.

Each week will bring quality football this fall, but a few dates are worth putting on the calendar. On Sept. 30, Class 2A/1A state champion Dunbar hosts Class 4A/3A champion Mervo in the key Baltimore City game. On Nov. 18, No. 1 St. Frances closes out its 10-game regular-season schedule against IMG Academy at Capital One Field in College Park. The 102nd Turkey Bowl featuring Loyola Blakefield and Calvert Hall is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 24 at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium, with the Dons holding a 50-43-8 series edge after last year’s upset. The MIAA A Conference title game is set for Nov. 20 with the MPSSAA title games, during which there will be six champions crowned again, set for Dec. 1-3 at Naval Academy’s Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

Players to watch

Offense
Calvert Hall quarterback Noah Brannock completed 116 of 193 passes for 1,852 yards and 25 touchdowns last season.

Noah Brannock, Calvert Hall, quarterback, senior

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An All-Metro first-team selection as a junior, Brannock’s poise will play a big role in the Cardinals’ bid for a second straight MIAA A Conference title. Last season, he completed 116 of 193 passes for 1,852 yards and 25 touchdowns while rushing for 164 yards and one score.

Jordan Fiorenza, Dundalk, running back, senior

The punishing back welcomes the workhorse tag, wearing down opposing defenses. The returning All-Metro first-team selection carried the ball 177 times for 1,494 yards and 18 touchdowns and added 24 receptions for 311 yards for the Baltimore County D-I champions and 4A/3A state runner-up Owls last season.

Dundalk running back Jordan Fiorenza had 177 carries for 1,494 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.

Rashard Herring, Milford Mill, offensive lineman, senior

Quality offensive lines often have the one alpha that sets the tone. At Milford Mill, it’s Herring, a 6-foot-2, 270-pound tackle who is strong, explosive and smart. In earning All-Metro honors last season, Herring didn’t give up a sack in pass protection and consistently opened up big holes in the running game.

Donovan Lewis, Calvert Hall, wide receiver, senior

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The bigger the game, the bigger the threat Lewis becomes — evidenced by his clutch two-touchdown performance in the Cardinals’ 14-8 win over McDonogh in last year’s MIAA A title game. The returning All-Metro first-team selection caught 37 passes for 731 yards and eight touchdowns last season.

Ryan Manning, St. Frances, wide receiver, senior

A significant addition to the Panthers’ offense, the Bowie transfer and Maryland commit is a polished route runner who brings quality athleticism and top-end speed. At 5-11 and 170 pounds, ESPN rates him as Maryland’s top receiver and 14th overall in the 2023 class.

Durrell Robinson, St. Frances, running back, senior

A three-star prospect who is still weighing Division I options, the 6-1, 200-pound Robinson brings speed, power and good vision to the Panthers’ backfield. Last season, Robinson surpassed 1,000 total yards on offense — 853 on the ground and 159 in the air — and finished with 12 touchdowns.

Dunbar quarterback Devin Roche accounted for 3,440 yards and 40 total touchdowns last season.

Devin Roche, Dunbar, quarterback, senior

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The Old Dominion commit, last year’s All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year, is a home run threat every time he touches the ball. In leading the Poets to the Class 2A/1A state title last season, he accounted for 3,440 yards and 40 total touchdowns.

AJ Rodrigues, South Carroll, running back, senior

The 5-10 170-pound standout has all the physical tools with his speed, athleticism and vision. Equally important are the intangibles he brings with his desire to win. In last season’s run to the Class 2A/1A title game, the state champion wrestler piled up 1,340 totals yards on offense with 21 touchdowns while also excelling at cornerback and in the return game.

Michael Van Buren, St. Frances, quarterback, junior

A four-star recruit who is drawing interest from top Division I programs, Van Buren earned a share of the quarterback duties midway through last season and excelled. In the first half of his first varsity action, the 6-3 195-pound signal-caller went 16-for-19 for 247 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-28 win over California power De La Salle.

Tamarus Walker, McDonogh, guard, senior

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A three-star prospect, the 6-3, 320-pound Maryland commit will be leaned on to provide stability and leadership to the Eagles’ offense. Walker has shown an ability to consistently overpower opponents at the line of scrimmage, and he’s equally effective opening holes for the running game and protecting the passer.

Last season, Spalding inside linebacker Gio Boone, center, made a smooth adjustment from the safety spot.
Defense

Gio Boone, Archbishop Spalding, linebacker, senior

Last season, the 6-foot 190-pound inside linebacker made a smooth adjustment from the safety spot, bringing exceptional speed to get to the ball with sure tackling. He finished last season with 41 tackles, five tackles for loss, four sacks and two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.

Carter Davis, Mount Saint Joseph, safety, senior

The 6-2 170-pound safety matches dominant athleticism with big-play instincts as the leader of the Gaels’ secondary. Last season, the Boston College commit finished with 90 tackles, three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. Carter can play any position in the secondary and also excels at wide receiver.

Oakland Mills defensive end Kharles Ngansi had 103 tackles — including 15 1/2 for loss — and 10 1/2 sacks last season.

Kharles Ngansi, Oakland Mills, end, senior

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Athletic with an uncanny ability to shed blocks to make big plays, the returning All-Metro second-team selection is a dominant force. Last season, he finished with 103 tackles — including 15 1/2 for loss — 10 1/2 sacks, five forced fumbles and one fumble recovery in leading the Scorpions to the Class 2A state semifinals.

K.P. Price, St. Frances, cornerback, senior

After helping Calvert Hall to the MIAA A crown last season, the gifted corner takes his shutdown skills to No. 1 St. Frances. Last season, the 6-2, 190-pound standout finished with 51 tackles, four interceptions, one sack and two forced fumbles for the Cardinals.

McDonogh's Mason Robinson, left, finished with 81 tackles — 16 for loss — and a team-high six sacks last season.

Mason Robinson, McDonogh, end, senior

Rated the No. 12 player in Maryland in the Class of 2023 by ESPN, the Northwestern commit (6-3, 240 pounds) uses his agility, strength and smarts to blow up plays in the opponent’s passing and running games. Last season, he finished with 81 tackles — 16 for loss — and a team-high six sacks.

Andy Schneider, Westminster, linebacker, senior

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Bringing fine instincts and a high motor at his inside linebacker spot, Schneider has a knack for shedding blocks to reach the ball carrier. In helping the Owls to an 8-4 record last fall, he finished second in tackles with 65 — 17 for loss — with two sacks and an interception for a unit that limited opponents to 17 points per game.

Sterling Thomas, Mervo, linebacker, senior

Now a two-year captain, the 6-1, 225-pound inside linebacker sets a positive tone with his physicality, instincts and vocal leadership. Just as important, Thomas gives maximum effort every play for the defending 4A/3A state champion Mustangs. Last season, he finished with 25 tackles, one fumble recovery and two interceptions, one of which he returned for a touchdown.

Loyola Blakefield's AJ Szymanski, left, finished with 70 tackles and nine sacks with one forced fumble and one recovered last season.

AJ Szymanski, Loyola Blakefield, end, senior

A three-star prospect who’s also a standout tight end, the 6-5 245-pound Maryland commit is an explosive athlete who has uncanny instincts to consistently get to the right place to make big plays. Last season, he finished with 70 tackles, nine sacks, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.

Rushaun Tongue, Chesapeake-AA, cornerback, senior

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The 6-2, 175-pound Wake Forest commit brings physicality and ball-hawking skills at cornerback, finishing with 36 tackles and four interceptions, including two returned for touchdowns last season. As a wide receiver last season, Tongue had 18 catches for 292 yards and four touchdowns while also returning two kickoffs for scores.

Da’Shawn Womack, St. Frances, end, senior

Last year’s All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Moore was the Panthers’ latest in a long list of havoc-wreaking linemen. Womack, a 6-5, 255-pound end, is next up. The LSU commit, rated No. 1 by ESPN among Maryland players in the 2023 class, has the complete package of speed, power and intelligence with a team-first approach.

Preseason top 15 teams

1. St. Frances

Coach: Messay Hailemariam

Last season: 8-1 overall, No. 1 ranking

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Postseason: DNP

Outlook: Big, strong, fast and experienced, the Panthers have it all as they push to raise the bar as one of the country’s top programs. They will earn their standing with a demanding schedule that opens with five out-of-state road games. Quarterback Michael Van Buren, running back Durrell Robinson and wide receiver Ryan Manning lead the offense with end Da’Shawn Womack, the state’s top 2023 prospect, a dominant force on an explosive defense filled with playmakers.

With 15 starters back from last year’s title team — eight on offense and seven on defense — the Cardinals are positioned to repeat as MIAA A Conference champions.

2. Calvert Hall

Coach: Josh Ward

Last season: 8-3, No. 2

Postseason: MIAA A champion

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Outlook: With 15 starters back from last year’s title team — eight on offense and seven on defense — the Cardinals are positioned to repeat. All-Metro performers QB/CB Noah Brannock and WR/S Donovan Lewis are playmakers on both sides of the ball. Brannock has plenty of weapons in a balanced offense and the defense has experience at all levels with the strength in the secondary.

3. McDonogh

Coach: Hakeem Sule

Last season: 6-6, No. 5

Postseason: MIAA A finalist

Outlook: The Eagles return 13 starters — six on offense and seven on defense — from a 2021 team that overcame a slow start to upset Spalding and reach the MIAA A title game. Freshman quarterback Braeden Palazzo takes over under center and has a speedy wide receiver group and strong line, led by guard Tamarus Walker, to work with. The defense, led by defensive end Mason Robinson, is their strength.

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Short on experience — coach Kyle Schmitt and Spalding have five starters back on offense and three on defense — the key will depend on how quickly the young players get acclimated.

4. Archbishop Spalding

Coach: Kyle Schmitt

Last season: 10-1, No. 3

Postseason: MIAA A semifinalist

Outlook: With the Cavaliers short on experience — they have five starters back on offense and three on defense — the season will depend on how quickly the young players get acclimated. Sophomore quarterback Malik Washington will play a vital leadership role with wide receiver Max Moss a key target and Dillon Jones anchoring the line. On defense, linebacker Gio Boone is the glue and Jayden Shipps and Tyler Brown will hold down the secondary.

5. Mount Saint Joseph

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Coach: Dominic Damico

Last season: 7-4, No. 7

Postseason: MIAA A semifinalist

Outlook: With experienced playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Gaels expect to be in the mix in MIAA A play with five starters each back on both offense and defense. Quarterback Winston Watkins, running back Bryce Cox and wide receiver Tre Goodridge lead a balanced attack. The secondary, led by Carter Davis, Blye Hill and Greg Roman — the son of the Ravens offensive coordinator by the same name — is the defense’s strength.

6. Dunbar

Coach: Lawrence Smith

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Last season: 13-0, No. 4

Postseason: Class 2A/1A state champion

Outlook: With eight starters back on both sides of the ball, led by All-Metro Offensive Player of the Year quarterback Devin Roche, the Poets are hungry to pick up where they left off. Roche is the area’s most dynamic threat who piles up yards running, throwing and returning kicks. Running back Tristan Keenan and wide receiver Tony Hart also are special playmakers and they anchor the secondary at the safety spots. Josh Fedd and Ebubedike Nnabugwu anchor both lines.

7. Loyola Blakefield

Coach: Anthony Zehyoue

Last season: 9-3, No. 12

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Postseason: MIAA B finalist

Outlook: The Dons return to the MIAA A Conference and will be without standout quarterback-wide receiver Jayden Moore, who tore his ACL this summer. Fortunately, the Dons have another dynamic playmaker in quarterback-wide receiver Marcus Hines as one of five starters back on offense. The Szymanski brothers — AJ will play tight end and defensive end, and Trevor will anchor both lines — are vital components.

Milford Mill coach Reggie White and the Millers feel they have unfinished business after falling short in their bid to win their second state title and first since 1987.

8. Milford Mill

Coach: Reggie White

Last season: 12-2, No. 9

Postseason: Class 2A state runner-up

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Outlook: The Millers feel they have unfinished business after falling short in their bid to win their second state title and first since 1987. The pieces are in place and the work is being put in to make a formidable bid. On offense, quarterback Deshawn Purdie and wide receiver Daysen Shell highlight the skill positions, and tackle Rashard Herring plays with a confidence-boosting edge. The team’s strength on defense is in the trenches, led by tackle Emmanuel Gee.

9. Broadneck

Coach: Rob Harris

Last season: 8-2, No. 10

Postseason: Class 4A state quarterfinalist

Outlook: Camrin Catterton, a transfer from South River, takes over at quarterback and has plenty of options at the skilled positions with playmaking wide receivers Eli Harris and Machi Evans and sophomore running back Ian Mauldin showing promise. On defense, the secondary is fast and long and is led by safety Anthony Hawkins. Both lines need time to develop with center Hayden Raymond the anchor on offense and end Tyler Hicks explosive on defense.

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10. Mervo

Coach: Patrick Nixon

Last season: 11-1, No. 6

Postseason: Class 4A/3A state champion

Outlook: Following the program’s first state crown, the Mustangs have a largely new cast excited to make another run. Linebacker-fullback Sterling Thomas and Rodney Judkins, a tackle on both sides, bring vital leadership. Healthy competition is at quarterback with Makai Woodrum, up from last year’s Baltimore City champion JV team, and Raymond Moore, a transfer from Montgomery County’s Avalon School, battling for the spot. Wide receiver Tye’Shawn Cox and cornerback Jenard Lockhardt are game changers.

11. Concordia Prep

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Coach: Joe Battaglia

Last season: 10-2, No. 14

Postseason: MIAA B champion

Outlook: The Saints, who moved up to the B Conference from C in 2019, enter the season on a major high after upsetting Loyola Blakefield in last year’s title game. They bring back six starters on both sides, so newcomers will have to fill some key voids. Quarterback Jordan Brooks, wide receiver-defensive back Josh Derry, running back Jaedon Alston, linebacker Cam Allen-Jones and linebacker-tight end Sid Stewart are key returnees.

12. Dundalk

Coach: Tom Abel

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Last season: 12-2, No. 8

Postseason: Class 4A/3A state runner-up

Outlook: Abel, who served as defensive coordinator the past two years under former coach Matt Banta, has a solid core to build on last year’s title game run. The Owls return five starters on offense and defense with strengths in vital areas. Running back Jordan Fiorenza and quarterback Jazir Bonner will work behind a punishing line anchored by tackle Chimdy Onoh. On defense, the front seven, led by linebackers Kevaun Briscoe and Dale Martin, flies to the ball.

Coach Anthony Burgos and Franklin are banking on a solid returning group and promising sophomore class to maintain the program’s consistent success.

13. Franklin

Coach: Anthony Burgos

Last season: 9-3, No. 13

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Postseason: Class 3A state quarterfinalist

Outlook: The Indians are banking on a solid returning group and promising sophomore class to maintain the program’s consistent success. While the quarterback spot remained up for grabs late in the preseason, they have a cohesive offensive line led by Bryce Ellison and Naji Gregg, and running back Anthony Gibson and wide receiver Khalil Bilal are dangerous threats. Safety Kyran Harry leads a long and athletic secondary.

14. Old Mill

Coach: Mike Pfisterer

Last season: 8-3, not ranked

Postseason: Class 4A state quarterfinalist

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Varsity Highlights

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Outlook: Position battles have dominated the preseason in Millersville, a sign of the Patriots’ quality depth. The biggest comes at quarterback with Aiden Day looking to convert from wide receiver as one of the three candidates. Twins Keondre and Keshawn Green lead a running back group that brings versatility. The defensive line, led by KJ Henson, is a strength with Jacob Nesbit the top playmaker at linebacker.

South Carroll running back AJ Rodrigues piled up 1,340 totals yards on offense with 21 touchdowns while also excelling at cornerback and in the return game last year.

15. South Carroll

Coach: Mike Kraus

Last season: 12-1, No. 11

Postseason: Class 2A/1A state finalist

Outlook: In becoming the fourth Carroll County team to reach the state title game last season, the Cavaliers have plenty to build on with 11 returning players and some talented newcomers looking for more. Standout quarterback Ryan Barnard graduated, leaving Carter Mazalewski to take over as the signal-caller. The Cavaliers will lean heavily on a running game that features AJ Rodrigues. Ben Simmens will play a vital role as a dominant lineman on both sides.

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Others considered: Arundel (8-4), Atholton (10-2), Chesapeake-AA (10-3), Long Reach (8-3), New Town (7-4), Owings Mills (10-2), River Hill (6-5), St. Mary’s (6-4), Westminster (8-4)


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