Undefeated FAET OK with anonymity as it prepares to host first football playoff game

Among the teams that will play in this weekend's regional football semifinals are 29 former state champions and many perennial powers. Even the names of schools that have never made it to a state final are easily recognizable.

One, however, is more baffling — FAET.


Friendship Academy of Engineering and Technology, a Baltimore City Public School off Northern Parkway near Old Harford Road, is in its second season as a varsity football program, but the Grizzlies should be better known. They made the playoffs last year and return as one of only 10 undefeated teams among 64 region semifinalists.

The players aren't concerned about their relative anonymity on the state level. They're the No. 1 seed in the Class 1A North region and will be the home team in a playoff game for the first time Saturday at 1 p.m. at Poly against Fairmont Heights (5-4) from Prince George's County.


"[We're] so underrated that [nobody knows] who we are," junior linebacker Ben Witherspoon said. "That's what we like, because we feed off that. I think us being underdogs will help in the long run, because it makes us work twice as hard. When they ask 'who is FAET?' we say, 'You'll all find out.'"

That confidence comes with being undefeated and holding the opposition to fewer points than any other team in the Baltimore area. Witherspoon, nose guard Tavon Joseph, linebacker Dermonta Mackell, cornerback Kija Jackson and defensive end Deonte Parnell lead a Grizzlies defense that has shut out four opponents and given up just 38 points this season.

They have allowed 105 fewer points than last season and have also scored nearly 100 more to win by an average of 25.3 points.

Their offense relies on fullback Trent Gordon and tailback Robert Murphy III running behind a veteran line of Tyler DaSilva, Stephen Hughes, Brandon Giles, John Wilford and Ben Lewis.

Even though they play in the weakest of Baltimore City's three divisions, they beat a Division I team this season, rolling over Poly, 30-6.

Such success seemed a long way off when coach William Crawford started the program with a junior varsity team in 2012.

"The first year, we had 25 kids come out that wanted to play but were academically ineligible," Crawford said. "About half came back the next year and they were eligible. Last year, we lost two and this year, we lost two, but at this point, they understand. We try to make sure the kids keep a 2.0 (GPA) and make sure they pass all their classes. Since we started the football program, we've been very successful."

Losing 25 potential players makes a big difference at a school with one of the smallest enrollments in the state. According to 2014-15 Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association enrollment figures, FAET has 315 students in grades 9 through 11. Only five football-playing programs in the state are smaller.

The Grizzlies' roster includes just 24 players, many of whom play both ways.

"Even the manager plays," Crawford said with a laugh.

Still, the players enjoy staying in the game and they've had plenty of success with a 16-3 record over two years.

The motivation for this fall came from a disappointing ending to last season. For the region semifinal round, the Grizzlies traveled to Surrattsville in Prince George's County, a school more than double the size of FAET. They lost, 35-0.


"It was actually culture shock for our children," Crawford said. "Traveling from Baltimore City to PG County was tough on us, and then the playoff atmosphere. They had the band, they had cheerleaders, which we're not used to. And the level of competition was tougher than most of the teams that we played in the city."

Witherspoon said the Grizzlies decided after that loss to take the program to a higher level. He credited the coaches with driving them through offseason workouts.

"We got a bond that's unbelievable," he said. "The difference between last year and this year is the bond we had last year wasn't on the same level. We [were] not on the same page, but this year we on the same page. We got to be 10 times stronger, 10 times faster, because when playoffs come, it's a whole other ball game."

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