November 20, 2017

2017 DeMatha football preview: Stags aim to keep dynasty ablaze in pursuit of fifth straight WCAC title

Elijah Brooks enters his seventh season at the helm of DeMatha football. Photo by Austin McFadden/MSA.

Last year’s record: 12-0, Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions

Head coach: Elijah Brooks, seventh season

Crystal ball: 11-1, Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champions

Style of play: Pro-style offense / Multiple set defense

Number of returning starters: 4 offense / 7 defense

Returning special teams players: Myles Miree, KR

STORYLINES

  • Finished last season as the eighth-ranked team in the nation by MaxPreps and enter 2017 at No. 13
  • Currently ride a 17-game win streak dating back to Week 8 in 2015
  • Won four straight WCAC titles, with the most recent coming in an epic comeback against St. John’s, 35-31, when the Stags erased a 15-point deficit with eight minutes to go
  • Beau English, after quarterbacking DeMatha to three-straight WCAC championships, is now off at Air Force. Senior Ty Lenhart, who has never started a varsity game and English’s backup since 2015, is set to take over the reins
  • The average starting offensive linemen is 6-foot-3, 295 pounds
  • Seven starters return on a defense that allowed 13.4 points per game in 2017, including Power-5 commits Austin Fontaine, John Morgan and Judson Tallendier

BIGGEST WEAPON ON OFFENSE

WR DeMarcco Hellams

Lenhart has repeatedly called Hellams, owner of 19 college offers, a “stud” and a “big-time” playmaker. Hellams stands at 6-foot-2, and has a college-ready body to make the toughest of catches in traffic or snags near the sideline. If the Stags do in fact air it out more in 2017, Hellams will be at center stage. 

BIGGEST KEY TO THE DEFENSE

DL Austin Fontaine

Fontaine is one the best run-stoppers in the country, and will be instrumental to the Stags front-seven in 2017. Coach Elijah Brooks has made it known DeMatha will lean heavily on its defense in case if the inexperienced offense sputters. The University of Maryland commit will need to be on his A-game at all times.

TOP-THREE PLAYERS ON OFFENSE

  1. WR DeMarcco Hellams (19 college offers)
  2. OL Evan Gregory (Maryland commit)
  3. RB MarShawn Lloyd (top-ranked running back in the Class of 2020)

[RELATED: Meet MarShawn Lloyd, DeMatha’s next running back sensation]

TOP-THREE PLAYERS ON DEFENSE

  1. DT Austin Fontaine (Maryland commit)
  2. DE John Morgan (Pittsburgh commit)
  3. CB Judson Tallendier (Pittsburgh commit)
Austin Fontaine (right) will lead a DeMatha defense that returns seven starters from 2016. Photo by Kyle McFadden/MSA.

YOU MAY NOT KNOW HIM NOW, BUT YOU SURE WILL BEFORE THE END OF THE SEASON…

Linebackers Kobi Thomas, Mahlon Slaughter and Anthony Torro

“They’re not the flashiest linebackers, but they’re super productive. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a linebacking core as good as these guys.” — Coach Brooks

SPIN

Photo by Kyle McFadden/MSA.

Elijah Brooks strolled through the post-game handshake line prior to DeMatha’s 10-point scrimmage win over St. Frances, and when the coach reached the end, he stepped to the sideline. Without saying a word, players flocked around and took a knee, fixing their collective eyes on the architect of a dynasty. Coaches fenced the perimeter, and by that time Brooks uttered one final message before game week had officially arrived.

“Men, we gave ourselves a chance out there because you guys didn’t quit. Things didn’t look pretty at times, but we hung in there, and that’s what matters,” Brooks told his players on Friday morning. “We now have the foundation to win football games. In a nutshell: Our competitiveness will give us a chance this year.”

By now, the seventh-year coach has molded the quintessential championship formula, and with only a few ingredients: Fiery competiveness, blue-collar grit and the will to do whatever it takes to get it done. It’s easy to embolden that on a white board in the weight room. It’s another to embody it. That’s DeMatha football, if you ask Brooks.

The Stags enter the 2017 season having won the previous four Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships and are primed, if not in the catbird seat, to win a fifth title in a row – an unprecedented mark in today’s climate with the national recruiting scene spurring a transfer circus.

“Out of all my years, we didn’t expect to go undefeated last year,” said Brooks, reflecting on last year’s 12-0 record and most likely referring to St. John’s loaded roster with national recruits. “I often think about things we did last year with that group and how we ran the program and things we did to keep our guys motivated, and I’ll definitely be doing some similar things, because if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.”

The only real noticeable shift at DeMatha is at the leadership front. Three-year starting quarterback Beau English, blue-chip running back Anthony McFarland, offensive lineman Terrance Davis and 5-star defensive end Chase Young are all off at Division I programs, but the Stags retain a stable of faces who are ready to presume larger roles.

Senior Ty Lenhart, DeMatha’s backup quarterback the past three years, will take the reins under center. Myles Miree, a junior, and MarShawn Lloyd, a sophomore, will inherit the bulk of the carries out of the backfield. University of Maryland commits Austin Fontaine and Evan Gregory return up front and Power-5 recruit DeMarcco Hellams heads the receiving corps out wide.

Defensive backs Judson Tallandier (Pittsburgh commit), Naim Muhammad (offer from Purdue), Nick Cross (five Power-5 college offers) and defensive end John Morgan (Pittsburgh commit) will backbone a defense that returns seven of 11 starters.

“We’re going to lean heavy on our defense, just because we have most of our returning starters,” Brooks said. “We feel good, but we have to show it on the field. … They’re all doing what we need them to do. Ty is doing a great job of leading. MarShawn is having big play after big play. DeMarcco is doing it on both sides of the ball, just like Austin [Fontaine] and Evan [Gregory]. So, those guys are on pace to continue to produce just like we expect, which is great.”

Unlike most backup quarterbacks, Lenhart is relatively seasoned. For two years he battled it out and sat behind English, one of the most efficient quarterbacks in the country and best known for his gamesmanship. And despite not having a single start in his varsity career, Lenhart already has offers from Bucknell and Cornell. He also took a visit to Indiana this summer.

“He’s done a great job of waiting his turn,” Brooks said. “All the guys know he has the ability. He automatically commands that respect. He’s just doing a great job with his leadership. He’s making all the throws. He’s running the offense very well. I’m excited to see him do his thing this year.”

Ty Lenhart takes control of the Stags under center for 2017. Photo by Kyle McFadden/MSA.

If it was anyone else, that player would’ve likely jumped ships and started elsewhere. Many schools tried to pry Lenhart out of DeMatha’s grasp, especially those in the MIAA — since Lenhart lives in Annapolis.“Ty’s a DeMatha guy,” Brooks added. “He could’ve easily transfer elsewhere and been a three-year starter there. But he wants to be a part of something special. I think it’s fitting to have [Bishop Gorman on ESPNU] for his official opener. Those are going to be memories that are going to last him a lifetime.”

At 6-foot-3, 203 pounds, Lenhart’s stature fits the bill of a Power-5 quarterback. He’s tall enough to see downfield, strong enough – physically and mentally – to weather some of the stingiest rushes and has the intangibles to make most throws. For now, it all comes down actual game reps. Recruiters say he’s not battle-tested. Critics claim DeMatha’s title streak will end with a newbie being under center.

[RELATED: Lenhart shows he’s ready for the moment, leads DeMatha past St. Frances in preseason play, 31-21]

Say what you want, Lenhart says. This has been a three-year project in the making.

“The offense is like on the back of my hand now,” said Lenhart, who tossed 198 yards and seven touchdowns on 19-for-34 passing in seven games last year. He also threw three interceptions, the same amount as English in 136 attempts. “Obviously we put corks and screws in different places, but having that has definitely instilled a really big cornerstone in the base of what I know. That’s definitely going to help me this season: Just knowing where everybody else and leading the team.”

Lenhart won’t have to carry the load on his shoulders alone. The offensive line, led by Fontaine (6-foot-2, 312 pounds) and Gregory (6-foot-5, 285 pounds), should be another typical DeMatha line – big, mean, physical, and dominant. Sophomore Jordan White (6-foot-2, 295 pounds), senior Michael Hall (6-foot-2, 240 pounds) and junior Khaydon Brooks (6-foot-4, 340 pounds), a transfer from Lexington, Va., round out the offensive front.

“Those are the guys who make this team what we are,” said Lenhart, referring to the offensive line. “You can say the receivers, running backs, quarterbacks. The line is what makes me do my job and they are the face of the team. The line doesn’t get the credit they deserve. … I’m treating them as kings. They are the face of this team. I have to treat them that way.”

Treating them as kings, eh? Have you bought any meals for them yet?

“We’re getting there,” Lenhart said, laughing. 

In the backfield, it’ll be Lloyd (5-foot-10, 205 pounds) and Miree (5-foot-8, 185 pounds), in that order. For those who remember, or didn’t know, Miree (715 yards and four touchdowns on 117 carries in 2016) caught the game-winning in last December’s WCAC title game against St. John’s. Lloyd (327 yards and five touchdowns on 33 carries in 2016), meanwhile, is the top-ranked running back in the Class in the 2020 by 247sports.

Starting corner back Dominic Logan-Nealy (5-foot-9, 170 pounds), a junior who averaged 8.2 yards per carry last year, is expected to get touches out of the backfield as well.

“We have a good stable of backs who are going to do some good things this year,” Brooks said.

MarShawn Lloyd, the No. 9-ranked player in the Class of 2020, leads the DeMatha rushing attack into the 2017 season. Photo by Kyle McFadden/MSA.

Out wide, the Stags will pose match-up problems with depth. Alongside Hellams (19 college offers) stands slot receiver Jermaine Johnson (279 yards and two touchdowns on 23 receptions in 2016), Dominic Lyles (123 yards and one touchdown on 12 receptions) and Rodney “Neno” Patterson, who all bring different dimensions to the air attack.”From a skill position, we feel good with what we have,” Brooks said. 

Defensively, Fontaine and Gregory will plug the gaps up the middle. Seniors Kobi Thomas, Mahlon Slaughter and Anthony Torro form a solid presence in the LB corps. Cross, Muhammad and Tallendier will rear the secondary. Morgan (6-foot-2, 236 pounds), the Pitt commit, brings a college intangibles to the edge.

Overall, DeMatha has all the resources to maintain its dynasty label and bag a fifth straight championship. The only way I see them not obtaining the feat is if injuries mount, the ball carriers don’t play up to par – which, traditionally, is at a Division I level – and if Lenhart succumbs to the pressure.

“That’s the pressure that these guys have,” Brooks said. “They don’t want to be the senior class not to get it done. We don’t want to be the team that ends the streak. These guys understand what they have to do and the work ethic to get it done.”

On Friday night, with a hulking target on their back and the whole world watching, the Stags will begin another title quest. Time will be the ultimate decider if this DeMatha team lets the bullseye toy with their demeanor or leverages it to stay ahead of the prey.

“That’s always in your mind and that’s always lurking in your head, but we really never want to think about it that way,” Lenhart said. “We want to focus on this week, let’s win this game and we’ll go from there. Not worrying about, ‘Oh, we don’t want to be the team who loses the streak, or whatever.’ We’re a different team than last year. We’re special in our own way. We’re going to take it week by week. I definitely think this team is a championship team. It’s a special group. Everybody is coming together. It’s going to be a special year.”

NOTABLE GAMES ON THE SCHEDULE

August 25, Week 0 — at Bishop Gorman (Nev.), 9:00 p.m. EST on ESPNU (No. 2-ranked team in the nation by MaxPreps)

Sept. 8, Week 2 — at Franklin, 7:00 p.m. (MPSSAA Class 3A runner-up in 2016)

Sept. 15, Week 3 — vs. McDonogh, 7:00 p.m. (MIAA A-conference runner-up in 2016)

Sept. 22, Week 4 — vs. Friendship Collegiate Academy (D.C.), 7:00 p.m. (11-2 record in 2016)

Oct. 6, Week 6 — vs. Gonzaga (D.C.), 7:00 p.m. (8-3 record, third-place finish in WCAC in 2016)

Oct. 13, Week 7 — vs. Good Counsel, 7:00 p.m. (6-5 record, fourth-place finish in WCAC in 2016)

Oct. 21, Week 8 — vs. St. John’s (D.C.), 2:00 p.m. (8-4 record, WCAC runner-up in 2016)

About Kyle McFadden 349 Articles

Kyle McFadden is a graduate from Linganore High School’s Class of 2014, a sports junkie and general news-hound. He got his start as a sports writer in January 2014 for Linganore’s student-run newspaper The Lance, where he wrote 13 articles.

McFadden then launched his own blog in October 2014 called The Beltway Dispatch covering collegiate, local high school and professional sports. Formally known as The Beltway Dispatch, McFadden and Evan Engelhard merged respective platforms in June 2015 to make what is now Maryland Sports Access.

With baseball, basketball and golf experience, McFadden brings ample knowledge to the helm of MSA. McFadden covers a wide variety of sports in football, baseball, basketball, golf, hockey, lacrosse, soccer and specializes in the collegiate and high school levels.

McFadden volunteers his time at Damascus Road Community Church — serving as a mentor to the youth, basketball coach at the varsity and junior varsity levels, and leads a small group of high school sophomores every Wednesday night.

Although he’s only been around journalism since January 2014, he’s a high school sports reporter for The Baltimore Sun and freelancer for The Frederick News-Post.

McFadden’s work has also appeared in DMV newspapers The Aegis, The Capital Gazette, The Daily Times (Delmarva Now), The Hometown Observer, Howard County Times, Germantown Pulse and The Towson Times. He’s also won two Mike Powell Excellence in Journalism awards and has appeared on The Best of SNO, which showcases top student work of high school and college journalists.

McFadden currently studies at Frederick Community College and plans to transfer to the University of Maryland in the fall of 2018 to work on a bachelor’s degree in journalism with aspirations to be a national college basketball writer.

Contact: Twitter

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