For most high school students, a 45-minute daily commute to school would seem a bit excessive. But for six countians, the daily drive is a reality, and, in their opinions, a small sacrifice to make in pursuit of academic and athletic excellence.
Every school day, seniors Joe Aben, Eric Smallwood, Ryan Foran, John Taliaferro, junior Daniel Reighard and sophomore Mike Bonanni leave their homes in South County at daybreak to car pool to DeMatha High School in Prince George's County, for what they consider a superior education and unrivaled athletic experience.
And judging from their achievements in the classroom and on the football field, one would be hard-pressed to differ.
The DeMatha football team, which fell to 4-1 last week after a 7-3 loss to Bishop McNamara, was ranked eighth in the nation, No. 1 in the state and No. 1 in the Washington Metro Area before the defeat. The Stags currently have fallen out of the national poll and have dropped to No. 4 in both the state poll and The Washington Post metro poll.
DeMatha head coach Bill McGregor, who has been at the helm of the Washington Metropolitan Athletic Conference contingent since 1982, has compiled a 74-11-2 record for an .860 winning percentage.
More impressive is the fact that since McGregor arrived at the Hyattsville institution, 60 of his players have gone on to Division I schools on full scholarships. McGregor attributes his program's success to the presence of dedicated individuals like the aforementioned students.
"These six kids are unbelievable people," said McGregor. "All of them are all-American boys. What we have in these six kids is an incredibly rare type of person, especially considering all the traveling they do to get to practice each day.
"I love to see kids have this type of priority. They came to DeMatha for academics first and athletics second, and they're doing an outstanding job in both. At times, I wonder how they can do it, going back and forth like that."
Taliaferro, a 6-foot-4, 225-pounder from Riva said that he was initially uncomfortable with his decision to attend DeMatha but that he quickly adjusted to the new setting.
"My friends didn't like it one bit but it was a decision I made," Taliaferro said. "At first I didn't like it either, but after a while I realized how great the people here are. They really care about you."
Aben, whose father attended DeMatha, always knew he would as well, but said his friends had a little more difficult time understanding his rationale.
"I went to St. Mary's (in Annapolis) from first through eighth grade and my friends didn't understand why I was transferring," said Aben, a resident of Harwood, whose 6-foot-1, 215-pound frame undoubtedly would have benefited the Saints' football program. "I lost some friends by leaving but I don't regret going there at all."
Wide receiver Eric Smallwood of Riva predicated his decision to attend DeMatha on the institution's ability to spawn excellence.
"At DeMatha, there's an atmosphere of excellence," said Smallwood, who is president of the National Honor Society and ranked No. 2 in his class.
"It's competitive, but not to the point where people are trying to kill one another. Everyone pushes the next person and that makes you want to work that much harder."
Smallwood's 4.3 grade-point average -- achieved through advanced placement courses -- and 4.4 speed in the 40-yard -- afford him the opportunity to all but write his own ticket to college. Smallwood's intellect and performance on the baseball diamond, where he plays center field, already have drawn the interest of such schools as the University of Virginia, Yale and Princeton.
"He's unbelievable," said McGregor. "His ability in classroom and on the playing field is too good to be true."
Smallwood said he still is undecided as to where he wants to go to school but said that he would like to study biomedical engineering and "maybe mingle that in somehow with a degree in law."
Ryan Foran is hoping his experience at DeMatha will help pay for his education like it did for his brother Jay, who after graduating in 1986 received a full scholarship to Virginia Tech.
"I figured, if they can do something like that for my brother, they could probably do something for me," said Foran, a resident of Davidsonville who, at 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds, is not lacking confidence.
McGregor shares the self-assurance in Foran and believes that with his 3.4 GPA and 1100-plus SAT score, Foran will have no problem landing a scholarship.
"He's along the same mold as brother Jay (who also played offensive line for the Stags). He's the same kind of football player," said McGregor.
"He's an all-American kid."
Foran, who plans to study finance or law in college, cited his top choice as the College of William and Mary, but said he would settle for any Ivy League school. He already has been approached by the University of Pennsylvania.