The Panthers’ strength of schedule took a beating when the other Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference teams announced in late May and early June that they would not play St. Frances this fall. That left coaches scrambling to fill out a full schedule.
Despite the late date, they managed to line up a few strong opponents, and St. Joseph’s Prep, from Philadelphia, is likely the toughest. While the Panthers are ranked No. 8 in USA Today’s Super 25, the Hawks are No. 17. This will be their first meeting.
Last season, the Hawks finished 13-1 with the No. 3 ranking in the Super 25. Their only loss came in the Class 6A state final after winning the title the previous season.
The Panthers finished 13-0 with the No. 4 national ranking. They won their second straight Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference title and defeated Bingham, Utah, in the Geico State Champions Bowl Series.
Both teams bring back a lot of talent. The Panthers look strong all over the field. Shane Lee, headed to Alabama, is rated the No. 4 senior inside linebacker in the country. Darrian Dalcourt, also committed to Alabama, is the No. 14 offensive guard, although he’ll play center this fall.
Joachim Bangda, who ran for 1,245 yards and scored 35 touchdowns last season, and Chris Braswell are also being recruited by the defending national champions among other Football Bowl Subdivision programs.
The Hawks boast the No. 4 senior running back in Pennsylvania in Kolbe Burrell after he ran for 879 yards and 14 touchdowns last season. Backfield mate Marques Mason scored four touchdowns in a playoff game last fall. On defense, Jeremiah Trotter Jr. is the son of the former Eagles linebacker.
“Nobody really knows what to expect as far as tendencies and what they like to rely on,” Russell said, “so it’s definitely different playing somebody new, somebody you haven’t really seen before. You have to have a big game plan on both sides to try to figure out what they’re going to do and what they see when they’re trying to game plan for us. It’s definitely a different perspective when you play a team you’ve never faced.”