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High school football preseason Top 5: A look at No. 3 Mount Saint Joseph

From left, St Mary's Ryken's Charles Barley and Matthew Harrer chase Mount Saint Joseph's Dont'e Thornton after Thornton caught a pass in the second quarter Aug. 25. Mount Saint Joseph won, 49-7.
From left, St Mary's Ryken's Charles Barley and Matthew Harrer chase Mount Saint Joseph's Dont'e Thornton after Thornton caught a pass in the second quarter Aug. 25. Mount Saint Joseph won, 49-7. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

We’ve reached the midpoint of our top-five countdown as we reveal the area’s best high school football teams ahead of The Baltimore Sun’s full preview coming Friday. Look for the full Top 15 poll and players to watch in The Baltimore Sun and online at baltimoresun.com.

In case you missed them, take a look back at No. 4 Broadneck and No. 5 Dunbar.

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Our No. 3 is a young but experienced group aiming to move up in the area’s toughest league. Here’s a look at...

3. Mount Saint Joseph

Coach: Rich Holzer

Last season: 6-4

Next game: Vs. Holy Spirit (N.J.), Friday, 4:30 p.m.

Last meeting: First meeting.

Players to watch: RB Marlowe Wax, Jr.; WR Dont’e Thornton, Soph.; DL Tyler Leavy, Jr.; OL Pat Fitzmaurice, Jr.; WR Maurice Nelson, Sr.; QB Billy Atkins, Soph.; DB Gavin Pringle, Sr.; LB Nate Slutzy, Jr.; DB DeShawn Jones, Soph.; WR Khari Barfield, Sr.

Broadneck, the defending Anne Arundel County champion, is The Baltimore Sun's preseason No. 4 team for the 2018 season.

Outlook: The Gaels missed out on the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference playoffs last season, eliminated in a tiebreaker from a five-way tie for second place behind St. Frances.

This year, there won’t be any playoffs either, because St. Frances was awarded the 2018 championship after the rest of the teams in the league decided not to play the Panthers this fall. That leaves the Gaels playing to be the best of the remaining five A Conference teams on their schedule — all of whom tied for second place at 3-3 in league play last season.

Holzer fielded the youngest team in his coaching career last fall, as the Gaels played seven freshmen and 13 sophomores. Although they graduated 12, including key skill players, they bring back a strong foundation since most of the young players played last season.

With nine starters returning on offense and seven on defense, the Gaels opened the season Saturday with a 49-7 win over St. Mary’s Ryken. Quarterback Billy Atkins, in his second season as a starter, broke the school passing record with 425 yards. He completed 19 of 24 passes and had three touchdowns.

The competition certainly will get tougher, but as running back Marlowe Wax said after Saturday’s game, the resounding win got them off to a confident start.

Atkins has a strong group of receivers in Dont’e Thornton, Khari Barfield, Maurice Nelson and sophomore A.C. Crawley. Wax, who will be the featured back, ran for two touchdowns.

Four players return to the line in juniors Pat Fitzmaurice and Tony Akins and seniors Casey Desaultelle and Matt Kramer while sophomore Russ Jones fills the hole at left guard.

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“I think right now the key to this offense is timing,” Holzer said. “Last year, we were hit or miss on that because we were so young. I think now the guys have developed a rapport between the receivers and the quarterback. The line is plugging along. They’re a bunch of veterans. I think it’s going to come down to how much can we run Marlowe, who’s also going to be playing linebacker, and also the timing between the wide receivers and the quarterback.”

Defensively, the Gaels’ strength is in their front seven.

Tyler Leavy returns and Holzer will rotate a couple of other players. Freshman defensive end Stephen Schulze had two fumble recoveries and forced one of them in the St Mary’s game.

Wax and Nate Slutzky return at linebacker while Gavin Pringle and junior Jordan Oliver are back in the secondary along with junior Amir Hall, who started about half of last fall’s games.

“We’ll see how fast we come together,” Holzer said. “Where we were last year was kind of a surprise. Last year’s record is where I thought we would be this year. We did so well last year considering we were so young and now we’ve got a year or two of experience under our belts, so hopefully it continues to come together.”

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