What: Breaking down the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association
The field: … A Conference — St. Frances Academy (10-2, 6-0), Archbishop Spalding (9-2, 5-1), McDonogh (8-3, 4-2), Mount St. Joseph (7-4, 3-3), Calvert Hall (7-5, 2-4), Gilman (2-9, 1-5), Loyola Blakefield (5-6, 0-6) … B Conference — St. Vincent Pallotti (10-2, 6-0), Boys Latin (7-4, 5-1), Severn School (6-5, 3-3), Archbishop Curley (5-5, 3-3), St. Mary’s (4-6, 3-3), John Carroll (1-9, 1-5), St. Paul’s (2-8, 0-6) … C Conference — Annapolis Area Christian (8-3, 5-1), St. John’s Catholic Prep (6-4, 4-2), Our Lady of Mount Carmel (6-3, 3-3), Friends (2-7, 0-6)
2016 in review: With a newly configured coaching staff and a mixing pot of transfers from around the Baltimore area, St. Frances managed to mold a championship unit that ran the table in the A Conference — going 11-2 (6-0 in conference play) and winning the program’s first title at the MIAA’s highest level. Archbishop Spalding, which averaged 45 points a game, came runner-up and McDonogh placed third. Down in the B Conference, Pallotti won intra-conference games by an average of 39 points en route to the league title. St. John’s Catholic Prep out of Frederick, meanwhile, edged Annapolis Area Christian in the C Conference title game, 12-6.
MIAA TEAMS RANKED IN THE MSA TOP 25
No. 1 St. Frances
No. 5 Archbishop Spalding
No. 7 McDonogh
No. 14 Calvert Hall
No. 19 Pallotti
No. 20 Mount St. Joseph
No. 24 Gilman
MIAA TEAMS RANKED IN THE STATE MEDIA POLL
No. 2 St. Frances
No. 4 McDonogh
No. 5 Archbishop Spalding
No. 13 Calvert Hall
GAMES TO WATCH
Week 1 — Archbishop Spalding at Annapolis (9/1 at 7 p.m.), Pallotti vs St. Mary’s Ryken (9/1 at 7 p.m.)
Week 2 — St. Frances at IMG Academy (9/8 at 7 p.m.), Calvert Hall at Wise (9/8 at 7 p.m.), Pallotti vs Eleanor Roosevelt (9/8 at 7 p.m.)
Week 3 — Archbishop Spalding vs Good Counsel (9/15 at 7 p.m.), McDonogh at DeMatha (9/15 at 7 p.m.), Calvert Hall vs Riverdale Baptist (9/15 at 7 p.m.)
Week 4 — Calvert Hall vs St. Frances (9/22 at 7 p.m.)
Week 5 — Archbishop Spalding vs McDonogh (9/29 at 7 p.m.), Calvert Hall vs Mount St. Joseph (9/29 at TBD)
Week 6 — St. Frances vs McDonogh (10/6 at 7 p.m.), Pallotti vs Boys Latin (10/6 at 7 p.m.), Annapolis Area Christian vs St. John’s Catholic Prep (10/6 at 3:30 p.m.)
Week 7 — Calvert Hall vs Archbishop Spalding (10/14 at noon)
Week 8 — Archbishop Spalding vs St. Frances (10/20 at 7 p.m.), Mount St. Joseph vs McDonogh (10/21 at 1 p.m.)
Week 9 — McDonogh vs Calvert Hall (10/27 at 7 p.m.), St. John’s Catholic Prep vs Annapolis Area Christian (10/27 at 6 p.m.)
Week 10 — Pallotti at Riverdale Baptist (11/3 at 7 p.m.)
ST. FRANCES ACADEMY PANTHERS
Crystal ball: 12-1 (6-0), MIAA A Conference champions
At this point last year, Henry Russell scurried around to put the pieces together. An entirely new coaching staff overtook a program that won two games the fall before and the personnel they worked with was a mixing pot of transfers and returning players who were unfamiliar with Russell’s style.
Things were bumpy at first, but as the weeks subsided, the road eventually smoothed and paved way for 10 wins, including an unblemished mark against intra-conference opponents and ultimately the program’s first ever MIAA A Conference title. The wins never came easy; in fact, eight games were decided by two scores or less — all in which the Panthers won. St. Frances also won all six conference games by an average of 10.5 points.
With Russell and the fresh wave of talent acclimated to new standards, and the reinvigoration process already in full-swing, the Panthers are in position to not only win another A Conference title, but finish on the high-end in national rankings come December. This offseason, former Gilman coach Biff Poggi adjoins Russell as co-head coaches after serving as the associate head coach under Jim Harbaugh at the University of Michigan. St. Frances also received a trio of impact transfers from St. John’s (D.C.) in running backs Joachim Bangda, Kwincy Hall and Shane Lee, who is one of the top linebacker recruits in the Class of 2019.
“We’re way farther ahead from where we were last year. … It’s night and day,” Russell said. “The program is in place. Kids know what’s expected day in and day out, through the offseason and the weight lifting.”
Logan Holgorsen, the son of West Virginia head football coach Dana Holgorsen and formerly from Morgantown High (W.Va.), adds to the offseason splash and will see time at quarterback this fall. In 2016 as a sophomore, Holgorsen completed 54 percent of his passes (85-for-157) and totaled 1355 passing yards. He threw 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and added 140 rushing yards.
Jahlil Brown, who offers more of a triple-option threat, will split reps with Holgorsen (offers from Bowling Green and North texas) under center in a two-quarterback system.
“They’re both talented kids,” Russell said. “I think they’re both dynamic. Jalen is an incredible athlete. … Logan, he’s a coach’s kid. A lot of times, when you have a coach’s kid, they have a good feel of everything. He’s a gamer.
“Having two weapons at a position, the quarterback position, it’s something we have to figure out. But we definitely like both of those kids.”
At the skill position, St. Frances boasts profuse depth. They’ll deploy a host of ball carriers, including the burly Osman Savage (6-foot-1, 218 pounds), Bangda (4-star recruit … 609 yards and six touchdowns on 71 carries at St. John’s in 2016) and Davon Williams.
In the receiving corps, Hall (669 yards and eight touchdowns on 38 receptions at St. John’s in 2016)l Randy Fields (6-3, 185) — a 3-star recruit committed to West Virginia lead the attack – and Kwesi Evans. Tyree Henry (3-star recruit with four Power-5 offers … 6-5, 225) will join the air attack once he’s fully recovered from a spinal injury.
Up front, Maryland commit Jaelyn Duncan (4-star recruit … 6-6, 300) anchors a strong supporting cast with 4-star tackle Darrian Dalcourt (6-4, 290) and the towering Donovan Robinson (6-7, 345).
Roughly nine of the Panthers’ offensive starters are being recruited by a Power-5 school, and we haven’t even gotten to the heart. Defensively, the Panthers may deploy the stingiest front-sevens in not only the DMV or the east coast, but in the nation.
They’re led by Eyabi Anoma (6-5, 230), a 4-star weak defensive end who garners 16 Power-5 offers. Calvin Carroll (6-6, 280) and Sterling Cooper will compliment Anoma on the line. Lee (6-foot, 240), a 4-star recruit and one of the top linebackers in the Class of 2019, mans the LB corps.
“He’s an absolute monster,” Russell said of Lee. “He brings the punch.”
Terrell Smith (5-10, 170), who has an offer from Toledo, patrols the secondary, which is likely weakest unit on the Panthers roster.
“We have to clean some things up on the back-end, but we’re getting there,” Russell said.
In the August 18 scrimmage versus previous No. 1 DeMatha, the Panthers held the Stags to 31 yards on 18 carries. In the 41-0 against Canada Prep, they held the opposition to 49 total yards of offense
“They’re big kids who can stuff the run,” Russell said.
St. Frances will have to get through three stiff tests before its first conference game against Calvert Hall in Week 4. This weekend, they host Bishop Sullivan Catholic, the top-ranked team in Va. The week after, they hike down to IMG Academy, the third-ranked team nationally by MaxPreps, and on September 15, they travel 1,250 miles north to face New Jersey stalwart Don Bosco Prep.
“We’re in a good place,” Russell said. “But we have to keep working hard to get better because we have a lot of good opponents ahead of us.”
Crystal ball: 10-2 (5-1), lose to St. Frances in the A Conference title game
Though the Cavaliers graduated their offensive engine in quarterback Evan Fochtman (34 total touchdowns in 2016 … now at Navy), they return 17 total starters from the nine-win unit last fall, including nine on an offense that averaged 45 points a night.
Jayden Umbarger, who ranked second on the team in receptions and third in receiving yards in 2016, moves over to quarterback, and according to coach Kyle Schmitt, the junior has the chance to be “just as good” or “better” than previous starters Fochtman and Zach Abey (currently the starting QB at Navy).
Leading rusher Julius Chestnut (1,025 total yards and 22 total touchdowns in 11 games) is back in the fold as well as top receivers Jamari Jones (382 yards and a team-high five touchdowns on 33 receptions), DaeSean Winston (324 yards and two touchdowns on 23 receptions) and Larry Brown (394 yards and four touchdowns on 19 receptions). Senior lineman Cody Winokur, Jahmeer Carter and Anthony Contrino return up front.
Defensively, linebackers senior linebackers Daniel Hood (58 total tackles), Jared Inniss and Winston (three interceptions) backbone the front-seven. Chris Ford (24 total tackles, 7.0 sacks) and Stephen Cobbs plug the gaps upfront. Logic Hudgens (four interceptions), Zaire Allen (three interceptions), Cody Anderson (45 total tackles) and Sean Spencer patrol the secondary.
MCDONOGH SCHOOL EAGLES
Crystal ball: 6-5 (4-2), lose to Archbishop Spalding in the A Conference semifinals
P.J. Mustipher tells his football team frequently that they remind him of the A Conference championship team from 2014. A large reason for that comparison is Mustipher himself, who has heightened expectations and provided extra shots of motivation for others who lag behind.
“I tell them all the time, I compare this team to my team in my freshman year when we won it all,” the defensive tackle said. “Everything about us, we’re more focused,” Mustipher said. “It starts with the captains. I think we’ve done a great job.”
With St. Frances more loaded than ever and an experienced Spalding team back in the mix — not to mention conference stalwarts Calvert Hall, Gilman and Mount Joseph not far behind — McDonogh needs all the focus they can get.
The Eagles return 14 total starters — seven on each side of the ball — including Mustipher, the Penn State commit, and quarterback and Virginia Tech commit DeJuan Ellis (passed for 1,770 yards and 17 touchdowns and ran for 1,330 yards and 16 touchdowns). Jabriel Johnson (5-9, 190) takes over in the backfield for three-year starter Myles McGriff. Division I recruits B.J. Farrare and Curtis Jacobs lead the receiving corps. Up front, the Eagles pack the beef in Mustipher (6-5, 295 pounds), Will Knutsson (6-4, 290 pounds), Parker Robinson, 6 feet, 245 pounds), Dvon Ellies (6-3, 285) and Cole Kirol (6-1, 260).
On defense, Mustipher is the unquestioned leader, but outside of him, a lot of questions need to be answered. Lack of depth, as a whole, is a concern as well, especially with a grueling five-week stretch on the road from Weeks 2-6 against Bishop McNamara, DeMatha, Malvern Prep (Pa.), Spalding and St. Frances.
“We have to stay injury-free,” McDonogh coach Dom Damico told The Baltimore Sun. “Our top 22 players can play against anybody, including DeMatha, but as you go through the season and you start getting guys hurt, you’ve got to put backups in, and with a 35-man roster, honestly, our backups can’t play at that level. There’s a huge drop-off between our top 20 players and our next 20 players. A healthy McDonogh is competitive vs. everyone. If we get lots of injuries, it will be much more demanding to try to win.”
Calvert Hall, which returns 13 starters from a seven-win season last fall, IS looking for its first conference title since 2010. They’ll be led by linebacker and Maryland commit Chance Campbell … Mount St. Joseph needs to improve against teams with a winning record if they want to make the four-team playoff. The Gaels went 1-4 last year versus teams with a .500 record or better and 6-0 against those who had a losing record. MSJ is led by workhorse tailback and Cincinnati commit Sam James … Loyola Blakefield looks to bury the 0-6 mark against conference opponents in the rear-view with starting quarterback Will Koras back under center … Gilman is coming off a historically low season, going 2-9 after Biff Poggi departed from the program. The Greyhounds seek to right the ship this fall by riding utility man and Navy commit Brandon Willis.
St. Frances, Spalding, McDonogh and Calvert Hall will make the A Conference playoffs, in that order — with SFA winning over Spalding for the conference crown … St. Vincent Pallotti should cruise through its competition en route to another B Conference title. Last fall, the Panthers won conference games by an average of 39 points, and with Division I running back recruit Blake Corum leading the way, I don’t see any other team touching SVP … St. John’s Catholic Prep returns starting quarterback Sully Dowling and should be considered as the early favorite to win the C Conference.