Frostburg State will have a lot to prove when it plays host to Ramapo in the ECAC Division III South championship game Saturday at noon. It's an old experience for Mark Price and Chandler Ray, who had to convince their Bobcats teammates that where you played your high school football is irrelevant.
The secondary veterans are products of Baltimore County. Even though some other area counties have had no more success in state competition, the jurisdiction has been looked down upon when it comes to turning out football talent.
Price, the strong safety and a four-year starter, went to Dulaney High, where he never experienced a winning season. Ray, a junior who has started three years at cornerback, went to Eastern Vo-Tech, where a lone victory over Milford Mill was his football claim to fame.
"When I first got here, I heard a couple of knocks from other players about Baltimore County football," Ray said. "That came mostly from the guys from Prince George's County and the D.C. area. They didn't think our skills were as good as theirs. I have had to prove myself here."
Frostburg State coach Dennis Riccio was sold on Price and Ray from the start.
"We had to replace Kenny Boyd, a two-time All-America, at rover [strong safety] this year," Riccio said. "Price was so successful at cornerback for us that I didn't want to move him, but he's had a great season at a new position. Chandler didn't play with confidence early in his career, but right now he's playing as well as he can.
"Whatever the position, it comes down to those two guys being great athletes."
Both Price and Ray were two-way players in high school who displayed many talents.
Ray had no experience as a junior league wrestler, but he helped Eastern Vo-Tech to a long win streak in that sport, and he also holds several EVT track and field records. He studied to be a machinist, but he also took calculus and had solid SAT scores. Alas, no Division I programs wanted a 140-pound prospect. Even now, he weighs 147.
Price is listed at 187 pounds in the Frostburg State media guide, but that's a generous figure. He has always played bigger, going back to the days when he mixed it up on East Baltimore playgrounds.
"I grew up in Highlandtown," Price said. "When I moved out to the county, I had to drive a few miles to find a youth team because everyone was playing soccer out there. I wasn't your typical Dulaney kid. Nobody expected me to go to college."
Price was one of the plums in Riccio's first group of recruits. Ray arrived in the fall of 1988 along with more than 100 other freshmen. He was ready to quit after three weeks of college practice, and said, "Even now, I wish I could play running back."
Price, whose best Dulaney High team went 5-5, had an adjustment of a different nature.
"Last year Mark was talking about it with [assistant coach] Mike Ricketts," Riccio said. "He told him, 'Mike, you've got to teach me about this winning stuff.' He had to learn how to win."
Price is the team's second-leading tackler with 60, and Ray has 33 and four interceptions. Through nine weeks their unit was one of the nation's best statistically, but it was burned for 358 yards rushing in a 28-18 loss at Waynesburg, Pa., last week. That defeat ended Frostburg State's 13-game win streak and kept the Bobcats out of the NCAA tournament.
Burned by Waynesburg's no-huddle offense, Frostburg State fell to 9-1. It faces a Ramapo team in a similar position, as the New Jersey squad lost its season finale to Trenton State and in the process an expected NCAA berth. Now they'll settle for winning the consolation prize the Eastern College Athletic Conference offers.