National recruits, nationally ranked teams and an offseason filled with tragedy seems to be the storyline for the 2009 Maryland high school football season.
In the past 10 years, Maryland has become a football hotbed, and 2009 may be one of the state's greatest seasons in terms of talented teams. The upcoming Maryland football season will see familiar faces at the top of the rankings, but will offer new faces on the sidelines of more than 30 schools and several teams switching classifications as they pursue championship dreams.
Perennial state power DeMatha begins the season ranked among the national top 25 teams in the ESPNRISE FAB 50. Good Counsel and Linganore likely will be ranked among the top programs in the East.
As for recruits, Maryland is coming off one of the state's most-hyped recruiting classes ever in 2008, and is off to an impressive start in 2009. As of July 15, 18 players have verbally committed to NCAA Division I programs, a group highlighted by Thomas Johnson's Nick Forbes (California), DeMatha's Jeff Knox (Pittsburgh) and Friendly's Jordan Haden (Florida). There are plenty of top players still waiting to make a decision, including Old Mill linebacker Josh Furman, who holds more than 15 offers, DeMatha's Marcus Coker, who holds more than five offers, and Good Counsel's Troy Gloster, with more than 10 offers.
More than 30 of Maryland's nearly 215 football programs underwent offseason head coaching changes. Among the notable new head coaches is former University of Maryland standout and NFL player Kyle Schmitt, now the head coach at Atholton, and former Maryland All-State quarterback Pat Cilento taking over defending 4A state champion Sherwood. A pair of former head coaches return this year with new programs. Dean Swink, the former Whitman coach, will take over Tuscarora, and Ed Shields, the former Northwestern-PG coach, will lead Suitland.
The offseason brought about tragedy in both Montgomery and Prince George counties. Early morning on New Year's Eve, longtime Suitland coach Nick Lynch died in automobile accident. More than 4,000 people crammed into Ebenezer AME Church for the Jan. 6 funeral service. Lynch guided Suitland to a pair of state titles in his 13-year head coaching tenure.
Northwest has suffered more than its share of tragedy this offseason, as two events are sure to impact the team for years to come. In late June, running back Hassan Dixon was in a car accident that left his mother in critical condition and the family reeling from the death of his 12-year old sister, Shiane. Just a few weeks later, Edwin "Dek" Miller, a 16-year-old rising junior at Northwest, died a few days after collapsing during a conditioning camp at the school.
Also during the offseason, Carroll Reid, Smithsburg's longtime coach, who retired a decade ago as one of the state's all-time winningest coaches, died following a lengthy illness.
On a more positive note, the biannual reclassification of schools has created a buzz regarding Class 3A, which is now home to seven programs that have either won state titles or finished as runner-up in the past two seasons. The 3A defending champion is Westlake remains in the classification with fellow 3A powers Damascus, Hereford and Wilde Lake. Quince Orchard, the 2007 4A champ, and Linganore, last year's 4A runner-up, move down to 3A, while 2007 and 2008 2A champ River Hill moves up to Class 3A. The moves have left Class 4A and Class 2A with no clear state title favorites this season.
To highlight the 2009 Maryland football season, MDVarsity.com will release its unrivaled preview package starting Tuesday, July 21.
Each day for the next three weeks, MDVarsity will offer a preview package on each conference/league in Maryland, complete with each program historical information and players to watch. In early August, MDVarsity will roll out its preseason top 25, classification rankings and predictions for the 2009 season. During the week leading up to the first public school practice, MDVarsity will offer its annual preseason Dream Team, highlighting the state's top projected football players. Along the way, MDVarsity will offer features pertaining to Maryland football, including the all-time Marylanders in the NFL list and a profile on Maryland's first college football All-American honoree.
Make sure to visit MDVarsity.com each day for additional preview information.
Here are some of the storylines MDVarsity.com will be following this season:
*Arundel senior Billy Cosh is a mere 2,610 passing yards shy of breaking the public school career state record. Given Cosh passed for 3,913 yards last season, 2,600-plus seems quick doable in Arundel's pass-happy offense.
*Wilde Lake begins its first year without Doug DuVall as head coach. The architect of the Wildecats' program retired after 36 seasons in which Wilde Lake won five state titles, made 20 payoff appearances and won 18 Howard County titles. DuVall's 308 career victories is the third-most in Maryland history, trailing Bob Milloy (332, still active) and John Harvill (314, retired from Gaithersburg). Mike Harrison, a former player for DuVall and Wilde Lake and a longtime assistant coach, takes over the program.
*A four-peat will be the goal for a pair of Baltimore area powers -- Dunbar and Loyola. Dunbar gears up for a run at a fourth straight state title, a feat that has been accomplished only once in Maryland history. The Poets picked up a trio of summer transfers that will make the team a serious challenger yet again, despite the graduation of two-time State Offensive Player of the Year Tavon Austin and 10 other college signees. Meanwhile, Loyola seeks a fourth straight MIAA A Conference crown with talented quarterback Connor Bruns.
Sheldon Shealer has covered high school football in Maryland for more than 20 years. Mike Loveday has been covering high school sports for the last five years. Sheldon can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com
Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com