P.G. powers its way to the top of each class

Last season may have signaled to the traditional powers in Prince George's County 4A that there are some new contenders in town.

Eleanor Roosevelt, Suitland and C.H. Flowers have been the dominant powers in P.G. County this decade, but last season Henry Wise emerged as a program on the rise when it reached the state semifinals.

In addition to Wise, Oxon Hill had to battle until the final regular season game of the year to make the playoffs, and DuVal has been steadily on the rise the last few years, finishing above .500 last year for the first time since 2002. Bowie is perennially a solid program and one of only three P.G. County 4A teams to win a state championship this decade (2001).

Prince George's County 4A

Bladensburg head coach Derek Tyler enters his second season after leading the Mustangs to a 4-6 record last season. Bladensburg returns 11 starters from last year's team, but will have to replace linebacker Cornell Wade who graduated and will attend Duquesne University. The team is expected to be strong on the offensive line and have good running backs. Kenneth Anderson and George Morgan both return at running back and Josh Wade, Cornell's younger brother, will anchor the offensive line. The defense returns six starters and could be the difference for a team that is looking to make the playoffs for the first time since 1990.

Bowie finished 3-7 last year and hired Lionel Macklin, who has been as assistant offensive coach for the Bulldogs for 15 years. Macklin was on staff when Bowie won a state championship in 2001, and the long-time assistant returns nine starters from last year's team including Travis Thomas and Okoye Bozeman. Bozeman posted a SPARQ Rating of 79.83 at the Nike Baltimore Combine, and holds an offer from Connecticut. Thomas rushed for 811 yards and five touchdowns on offense and recorded 61 tackles and three interceptions on defense last season. He holds offers from Villanova and Richmond. According to assistant head coach Terry Hayes, the Bulldogs have their eyes on the playoffs, and believe they could be the surprise team in P.G. County this season.

C.H. Flowers has won at least 10 games in five of the past six years, making them one of the most consistent programs in Maryland. Head coach Michael Mayo returns all but one offensive lineman and his entire offensive backfield, which is key in the team's wing-T offensive scheme. Mayo enters his ninth season as head coach, and said he plans to open up the offense more this season by getting the passing game more involved. Junior Thomas Lawrence returns at quarterback after playing a large role as a sophomore. The defense will be young but experienced, even with the graduation of linebackers Lorne Goree and Brandon Killebrew. Senior Roderick Neither will anchor the linebacking corps, and the defensive line will be strong with the return of 6-foot-5, 325-pound Phil Coleman.

DuVal has increased its win total in each of the last three years: going from three wins in 2006 to five in 2007 to six last season. But this year's team faces severe graduation losses. Head coach Dameon Powell enters his second season, after serving as the team's defensive coordinator two years ago. He said he thinks this could be a rebuilding year for the Tigers. DuVal lost 24 players to graduation after a 6-4 record last season. Among those losses is star running back Jesse Henderson. The Tigers will have a playmaker in transfer recevier Khari Pleasant. Powell said if his young and talented team gels early in the season, the team could be a serious playoff contender.

Eleanor Roosevelt is synonymous with being one of the top programs in Maryland. Every year the Raiders produce their share of Division I athletes, and last year was no exception with five players committing to college. Last year, the Raiders went 10-0 in the regular season, but lost in the region semifinals to an up-and-coming Henry Wise team. This year, head coach Tom Green enters his second season at the helm and returns 10 starters.

"We are light-years ahead of where our team was last year as far as understanding the basic concept of what we're trying to do offensively and defensively," Green said of his second full offseason with Roosevelt.

This offseason, 75 athletes have been working out with the varsity team, giving Green plenty of options and depth. Green does not expect much of a drop off in talent with this year's team, but it will need to gain some experience. Hardest hit by graduation was the defensive line, but the returning Derrick Marks played every game at defensive tackle and will anchor the defense. Even with the graduation of defensive backs, Stephon Morris and Derrick Thomas, Green is confident that he will be able to fill those spots with talent this season.

"If you have guys that can run and tackle [at defensive back], then you can win in P.G. County," Green said.

Going into its final regular season game last season, Henry Wise held its fate in its hands. Win and it makes the playoffs; lose to Oxon Hill and the season is over. Wise won, making the playoffs for the first time in school history, and then rolled off two wins in the playoffs to reach the Class 4A semifinals. The Pumas finished 9-4 last season and return 15 starters, including eight on a defense that allowed only six points in two playoff games against Eleanor Roosevelt and C.H. Flowers. Leading the defense will be Maryland commit Titus Til at defensive back. Rahsaan Moore is an emerging star at defensive end and holds offers from New Mexico, Liberty, Delaware State and Richmond. On the other end is Richmond commit Anthony McDaniel. Head coach DaLawn Parrish added to the strength of his team with the hire of former Oxon Hill head coach Kevin Wolfolk at defensive coordinator. Wolfolk helped Oxon Hill back to a playoff contender in just two years and should help solidify the defense. With last year's late playoff run and the number of returning starters, Wise looks to be the preseason favorite to take P.G. County and one of the early favorites to compete for the Class 4A state championship.

High Point finished 0-10 last season, but brings in a new head coach in Joe Lewis who had a solid program at Reservoir in Howard County. Lewis is familiar with the teams in P.G. County, having been head coach at DuVal from 2000 to 2003.

Laurel head coach Brian Moore enters his second season as head coach and is optimistic about his 2009 team. Laurel finished 2-8 last season, but Moore said the team has a better offseason strength program this year with the addition of a strength and conditioning coach. Nine starters return, including P.G. County's third leading rusher, DeAnte Love. Love rushed for 859 yards last season. Moore is confident in his skill position players, who all played together last season: Love, quarterback Zane Carroll and receiver Yees Mguessan. Moore is hoping for several players from the basketball team to come out for the team this season. If the team adds a few more players, Moore's concern about depth on the offensive and defensive lines could be abated. According to Moore, the future looks bright for the Spartans because of the excitement he saw from the junior varsity players during this past offseason's workout program.

Northwestern made a three win improvement from 2007 to last season. The Wildcats went from 1-9 to 4-6. Head coach Bryan Pierre enters his eighth season and returns 10 starters. Senior Guillermo Herrera returns at quarterback and will have receivers Daniel Adams and Jerome Nelson as targets. The defense returns five starters and will be anchored by linebackers Marcus Adams and Dalanta Alexander.

Oxon Hill missed the playoffs by one game last season, losing to Wise in the final regular season game. But considering the team changed head coaches early in the season, it may have been more competitive than some skeptics expected. This year, the Clippers have a new head coach in Robert Green. Green inherits a team with the talented duo of Malik Cross and Leo Gordon. Cross won the receiver MVP award at the Nike Penn State camp and holds offers from Western Carolina, Wofford and Northeastern. Last year, he had more than 1,000 total yards of offense. Gordon rushed for 1,000 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first year at Oxon Hill.

Parkdale had been building a solid program for the past few seasons, but the team had its worst season since 2004 when it finished 1-9 last season. Head coach Richard Holzer was hired only a few weeks before last season, but now has a full year with the team and seven returning starters. Holzer said the team increased team participation from 40 players to more than 100 this year. The team will be young this season and will have several juniors expected to make an impact, including running back Jeff Sallis and receiver Reggie Uwandi. Senior linebacker Dayo Jaiyesimi returns after being the team's second leading tackler last season. Parkdale, along with Bowie and Suitland are the only three P.G. County 4A teams that have won a state championship this decade.

It will be impossible to talk about Suitland football this season without mentioning former head coach Nick Lynch, who died in a car accident on Dec. 31, 2008. Lynch had been the Rams head coach for 13 years, building the team into not only a county power but a regular title contender. The Rams won state championships in 2004 and 2006. Taking over for Lynch is longtime assistant coach Ed Shields. The entire coaching staff remains intact, and the team returns seven starters on offense and five on defense. Shields is an experienced head coach, having led Northwestern (P.G.) to a Class 4A state semifinal appearance in 1998 and a 4A South semifinal in 2003. Shields spent seven years as head coach at Northwestern, building a 45-26 record. Suitland will be one of the most talented teams in P.G. County this season, with Maryland commit Jeremiah Johnson returning at defensive back. The team has several talented skill position players, including Dontrewell Kelley and Keith Brown. Devonte Lindsay returns at quarterback and junior Terrell Stewart is a rising star on the offensive line. Suitland players showed up en masse to the Nike Baltimore Combine. The team told MDVarsity.com that this season is dedicated to Lynch, and it is more focused to win a title in his honor. Talent and drive could make Suitland a dangerous team in Class 4A this season.

Prince George's County 3A/2A/1A

Coach Stan Hall has helped Central back to respectability, and now he's hoping for better turnout. This program spent most of the 1990s and 2000s getting beat up in the conference. Last year's team went 5-5. With top returnees James Hall, a tight end/defensive end who received all-county honors last year, and a trio of offensive lineman weighing 265 or more, Central could make a run for its third winning season since 1991. Hall said his major issue continues to be numbers. He expects only about 35 players on this year's team.

Coach Eric Knight's first season at Crossland served as the building block. Now, he expects the Cavaliers to challenge for the division title. Four-year varsity player Delonte White, who holds eight offers, returns as a receiver/defensive back. Rising sophomore quarterback sensation Cornell Duncan might end up as a two-way starter. Knight was the longtime, successful coach at Potomac, winning two state titles earlier this decade. Now at Crossland, he sees similar potential. His main concern entering the 2009 campaign is a lack of size on the line. That aside, Knight has a transfer from Georgia, and adds three key players to the lineup who were academically ineligible last year. "I had a coach tell me, this is beginning to look like a Knight-coached team," he said.

Coach J.C. Pinkney summed up Frederick Douglass with a simple statement, "So people think this will be a down year for us. We don't see it that way. Frankly, we don't ever see it that way." Douglass, a perennial playoff contender, was hit hard by graduation and has a small senior class, but Pinkney is quick to point out that it is a talented class. Quarterback Richard Barber combined for 1,200 total offensive yards and 19 touchdowns last year. Emmanuel Paul projects as the team's top running back. Douglass has its biggest and strongest line during Pinkney's eight-year tenure as coach. "We're going to be young, but we're very good in areas we need to be," Pinkney said.

Fairmont Heights is coming off an 0-10 season. A pair of seniors, Michael Gibson, a linebacker, and Christian Bryant, at tight end, project as key players this season. Second-year head coach Derek Deane returns nine starters, most of them on both sides of the ball.

The game at Forestville is simple, win enough games to make the 1A playoffs. Given that a 5-5 record might do it, it's harder than it sounds. Forestville's schedule starts with 2A state favorite Gwynn Park followed by 3A playoff contender Potomac and then a vastly improved Riverdale Baptist. In a long line of high-profile recruits, Forestville graduated DeOnte Arnett last year, and reciever Antonio Belt is now the team's marquee player. Belt, who has offers from Maryland among other programs, had 33 catches for 970 yards last year, including an 89-yard catch-and-run TD against Friendly. Another player receiving major college interest is 6-3, 225-pound defensive end Darnell McClary. As is usually the case at Forestville, the team likely will have only 25 varsity members. This will be coach Charles Harley's largest team with three 300-pounders on the offensive line, but he fears injuries. "This team has a chance to do well if we stay helathy," he said. "We play 11 guys, most of them both ways, so one injury can change our season." Forestville does not have a junior varsity team to draw from, which Harley says has hurt the program as well.

Friendly is back. The Patriots, a perennial playoff team over the last 15 years, took a hit two seasons ago when it was forced to forfeit enough games to miss the playoffs. After a coaching change and some growing pains, Friendly made it back to the playoffs last year with an 8-2 record. Florida commit Jordan Haden leads a talented senior class that should have the Patriots in the running for a league title and a spot in the Class 3A South Region playoffs. Junior quarterback Sherrod Baltimore is back following a 1,000-yard passing season. Rodney Haskins is a key linebacker. One loss for this year's Friendly team is that rising junior Ryan Thermil transferred to St. Stephen's - St. Agnes (Alexandria, Va.).

Any talk regarding the favorite in the Prince George's County 3A/2A/1A League tends to center around Gwynn Park. After all, the Yellow Jackets have made the playoffs seven of the last eight years and won six league titles during that stretch. Senior athlete Khalek Shepherd, son of former NFL player Leslie Shepherd, is a game-breaker. Linebacker Brian Blue and defensive end Jerome June are Division I prospects. The Yellow Jackets will be the favorite in the league this year, once again.

Largo continues to be a program in flux. David Fant Jr. takes over as head coach, the program's fifth head coach since 2003. Quarterback Jermaine Quattlebaum projects as the team's top returning player. Largo's strength may be its secondary with athletes Mohamed Conteh, Dominique Hill and Dennis Wolley.

Potomac coach Chris Davidson is moving his star athlete, Devonta Tabannah, to quarterback this season after he was the team's top receiver in 2008. Having the Division I recruit touch the ball on every snap could make Potomac more dangerous in 2009. The top returning defensive player is Terrell McGowan, who had 118 tackles and 11.5 sacks last season. The team's rising sophomore sensation Ron Darby, who already has a verbal offer from Maryland, should emerge as the top running back. With Tabannah at quarterback, Potomac will run a spread offense and could be in the running for the league title.

With 13 returning starters, Surrattsville figures to be a vast improvement over last year's 3-7 team. However, it might not show on the overall record. Surrattsville's schedule includes 3A playoff contenders Friendly and Potomac, 2A power Gwynn Park, last year's 1A state runner-up Fort Hill and perennially strong Poly Prep (Brooklyn, N.Y.). Surrattsville may turn to sophomore Daniel Williams to run the offensive at quarterback. Solomon Steele, a tight end/linebacker, was an all-county selection as a punter last season. Surrattsville should be solid at the running back position with seniors Aurelius Kitchens and Joseph Rollins.