Well, would you look here, it’s that time of year again — where toiled summer hours of preparation meets the gridiron and new chapters forged into the history books. With official practices breaking ground on Wednesday, August 9, MSA will start rolling out preview content in a matter of days. Before we go further with that preview stuff, let’s just jump straight to the chase by predicting the MPSSAA, MIAA and WCAC title games. Because, after all, that’s really what all of this comes down to. And yes, coaches, we aren’t ignoring the fact you follow the one-day-at-a-time cliché mantra. We figure this is a good place to start — identifying some of the state’s title contenders. I do warn you, however: What’s below may ruffle your feathers. Without further ado, let the hoopla, and games, begin.
Washington Catholic Athletic Conference
DeMatha (-7) over St. John’s (D.C.)
Even though DeMatha graduated program cornerstones Chase Young (Ohio State), Anthony McFarland (Maryland) and three-year starting quarterback Beau English (Air Force), the Stags usher in a new wave of leaders set to carry on its winning tradition.
Ty Lenhart, who is drawing heavy Division I interest, is set to take over at quarterback. DeMarcco Hellams and Dominic Lyles return in the receiving corps. Maryland commits Evan Gregory and Austin Fontaine return in the trenches and Division I recruits Naim Muhammed and Nick Cross return in the secondary.
The Stags seemingly always find a way to win — like overcoming a 15-point deficit in the waning minutes of last year’s WCAC title game against St. John’s to complete the four-peat — and I don’t see this group being an outlier.
For St. John’s, running back Keilan Robinson returns in quest to secure the Cadets’ first WCAC title since 1989. As for other contenders, you’d have to think Gonzaga (D.C.) and Good Counsel will be right up there come crunch time.
When it’s over, DeMatha bags a fifth consecutive WCAC title.
Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association
St. Frances Academy (-21) over McDonogh School
Last year, the Panthers went 6-0 in the MIAA A-conference en route to the title. I expect the same result this year, and with a locked-and-loaded roster, maybe even more lopsided results in their favor.
Tyree Henry (offers from Maryland, Virginia Tech, Pitt and WVU) and Randy Fields (offers from Cinci and Pitt) will head an athletic receiving corps. On the other side, defensive end Eyabi Anoma (13 Power-5 offers, including Alabama) and linebacker Shane Lee (13 Power-5 offers, including Clemson and Ohio State) — two of the best defensive recruits in the country — bedrock a fast and physical defense. Running back Joachim Bangda comes over from St. John’s (D.C.) to add to the Panthers’ firepower.
Remember, this is just a prediction based off names on paper, but St. Frances has the intangibles to run the table in the MIAA once again.
As for McDonogh, they retain starting quarterback DeJuan Ellis, who is verbally committed to Virginia Tech. Ellis is a dynamite playmaker and operates at his best outside the pocket. He alone is enough to carry McDonogh into the title game. P.J. Mustipher, a 4-star defensive tackle who garners 17 Power-5 offers, will spearhead the defense.
MPSSAA Class 4A
Wise (-10) over Northwest
“First down, Puuuuuuuuuuuummmaaaaaassssss.” If you’ve ever been to a Wise football game, you know what I’m talking about. You’re going to hear a lot of that once again as the mighty Pumas gun for a third straight Class 4A state title, a feat that hasn’t been done since 1979-81 when the legendary Bob Milloy steered Springbrook to the trifecta.
For the past two years, Wise has managed to reload on role players and build around those who return. Expect the same thing this year.
Quarterback Jabari Laws and linebacker Calvin Hickerson are off to bigger, better things, but Division I prospects Isaiah Hazel (11 Division I offers), A.J. Lytton (5-star defensive back who is verbally committed to Florida State) and Demetri Morsell (offer from Rutgers) solidify another sturdy core of Puma studs. The three accounted for 60 percent of Wise’s air attack in 2016 and mold one of the most feared secondary’s in the state. Leading rusher John MooMoo Oliver returns as well.
I anticipate Wise fielding another top-flight roster for a third year in a row.
On the contrary, I believe Northwest will find its way back into the title game for the first time since 2013. Quarterback Chris Craddock worked through normal first-year lumps last year as a junior and is ready to level up this fall as a senior.
Juwon Farri, playing in his third year on varsity, and Ajahni Terri, a sophomore who comes over from neighboring Seneca Valley, form a solid backfield tandem. Alphonso Foray, another soon-to-be three-year varsity player, returns out wide and in the secondary.
DeAndre Jules, who has four Power-5 offers, forefronts an athletic defense coached by former Wake Forest linebacker Michael Neubeiser.
For Northwest, and practically everyone else in Class 4A, will they have what it takes to dethrone dominant Wise? We’ll see.
Other contenders: Annapolis, Blair, Eleanor Roosevelt, Mervo, North Point, Old Mill, Perry Hall, Howard, Quince Orchard and Sherwood
MPSSAA Class 3A
Linganore (-3) over Franklin
Dear every competitor in Class 3A, feel free to let out a big sigh of relief. Damascus, which moves down to Class 2A this fall, is no longer running your team’s title aspirations into the ground. It’s a wide-open race now, and we’re guaranteed a new Class 3A state champ since 2014.
I’ve identified three “Tier 1” teams who, I think, stand out from the rest: Franklin, Linganore and Oxon Hill (in alphabetical order). If anything, Franklin has a slight edge at the moment, just because they’re riding momentum off its state title appearance this past December in which they fell to Damascus, 14-12. But when it’s all said and done this fall, I like Linganore’s upside.
The Lancers are coming off a 7-4 year filled with growing pains, but the youthful roster made enough strides to hang with eventual Class 3A state champion Damascus in Round 1 of the playoffs before losing, 21-7.
Linganore will return a bevy of impact players and role players while gaining a pair of transfers that thrust them back into the state title chatter.
Junior 6-foot-5 quarterback Ryan Leyh is garnering Division I interest and has appeared to make the necessary improvements to take Linganore to the next level. Leyh will be flanked by one of the state’s most forceful ground attacks in juniors Davon Butler, Isaiah Dowery and senior Zamarre Snowden.
Up front, three of five offensive linemen return. In the receiving corps, Joe Kollick returns and Good Counsel transfer Joey Felton joins the fray. Defensively, five starters return, including run-stoppers Luke Freeman (linebacker) and Tre Briscoe (defensive tackle).
As for Franklin, they lose its starting quarterback, top-three rushers, leading receiver and top-three tacklers, but should retain enough and have new faces emerge to maintain Tier 1 status in Class 3A. Wide receiver Assanti Kearney (30 receptions, 430 yards, five touchdowns) is back and the Indians’ No. 4 tackler Elijah Solomon (63 tackles) will be a junior.
Oxon Hill, meanwhile, will look to avenge its upset loss to Potomac in the 3A South region title game that abruptly halted an undefeated season and state title run. The Clippers bring back a lethal duo in quarterback DeJuan Rollins (167 passing yards a game, 22 touchdowns and seven interceptions in 12 games last year) and 6-foot-3 receiver Daniel George (29 receptions for 498 yards and 11 touchdowns last year), a 4-star recruit committed to Penn State.
Other contenders: Chopticon, Long Reach, Milford Mill, Potomac and Tuscarora
MPSSAA Class 2A
Damascus (-21) over North Caroline
I do live in Frederick, so maybe I’m missing the full concept on the other regions in Class 2A. But HAVE YOU SEEN THE CLASS 2A WEST? My golly. It was already tough with undefeated, state champion Walkersville, stalwart Middletown, 9-win Liberty and 8-win Century. Now Damascus, who has won 41 of its last 42 games and are back-to-back Class 3A state champions, Oakdale (9-3 in 2016) and Seneca Valley (holds record for most state titles in MPSSAA history with 12) join the soon-to-be-log-jammed region.
I’m curious to find this out: When’s the last time two reigning champions were in the same region? The 2017 2A West could be, and don’t quote me here, the first time this has ever happened.
It’s survival of the fittest, and therefore, I believe whom ever comes out alive in the West wins Class 2A. My pick is Damascus, and for many reasons. They’re schedule, with four Class 4A teams on the docket (more playoff points), puts them in prime position to capture home field advantage, where they haven’t lost since 2013.
Up front, they have one of the nastiest lines in the state in Wake Forest commit Michael Jurgens, Division I prospect Jordan Funk, next-level recruit Matt Betterelli and coveted Class of 2020 recruit Bryan Bresee, who already boasts offers from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State and Penn State, among others.
The Betterelli-Funk-Jurgens trio has paved the way for a 28-0 record and two state titles in their respective high school careers, and they could easily be 42-0 with three rings when it’s all said and done. John Allan Furgeson, who started the state title game at quarterback for an injured Wade Rippeon and paced the Hornets to a 14-12 title victory, will take over the reins under center. Downhill runner Ben Lokos, trackster T.D. Ayo-Durojaiye and all-around back Gage Dickens will head a dynamic run game.
Damascus’ biggest roadblock, however, is the classification’s reigning champion, Walkersville. The Lions return 15 of 22 starters, including 9 of 11 on a defense that didn’t allow more than eight points a game in 2016. Starting quarterback Billy Gant, do-it-all Jacob Wetzel, and running backs Ty Littleton and Tyler Gleason return for their third year’s at the varsity level. Division I recruit Ethan Parrish leads the offensive line and interior linebacker, Christian Pollicelli, who racked up over 120 tackles last year, centrals the defense.
Oakdale, who has enough firepower to come out of the West in 6-foot-2 receiver Bryce De Maille and slippery slot back Simeon Sabvute, needs a physical trench game like Damascus and Walkersville if they want to leverage themselves as a state title contender.
My state runner-up pick, North Caroline, brings back Notre Dame commit, defensive lineman Jamion Franklin, and Boston College commit, running back David Bailey.
When it’s over, I’d be shocked if Damascus or Walkersville weren’t the ones hoisting the trophy. But hey, anything can happen.
Other contenders: Calvert, Elkton, Gywnn Park, Hereford, Kent Island and Patuxent
MPSSAA Class 1A
Fort Hill (-7) over Dunbar
The past four years has been no contest in Class 1A. Instead, it’s crown Fort Hill and let’s see if we can get into the state title game to make some good memories.
This year, however, is different. The Sentinels, vying for five state titles in a row, don’t have a blow-away skill guy like current University of Maryland running back Ty Johnson and UCONN-bound Brayden Brown. They also graduated four of its five offensive linemen, two-year starting quarterback Nathaniel Graves and three-year running back Raen Smith.
The core from the illustrious four-peat has nearly dissolved, leaving a wide open door for everyone else. Fort Hill does return running back Troy Banks III, all-state linebacker Brayden Poling and hard-hitting linebacker Luke Hamilton (offer from Navy). Offensive lineman Trey Bishop, who played on JV last year, is expected to fill a void up front. You’d have to imagine Fort Hill reloads (I’m assuming that; hint at my prediction), but there’s no guarantees.
Dunbar, who gave Walkersville fits in the Class 2A state semifinal game last year, bumps down to 1A and returns dual-threat quarterback Jared Lewis. They also retain its top-three receivers in Melvin Curbeam, Kwesi Evans and Ryan Wood, who combined for 89 receptions, 1,519 yards and 16 touchdowns in 2016.
For the first time a while, Fort Hill’s title streak is in serious jeopardy. But for now, I’ll believe it when I see it.
Other contenders: Allegany, Douglass-PG, Havre de Grace and Lackey