All season Larry Washington's powerful legs and shoulders caused unexpected adjustments to the pads and mouthpieces of opposing tacklers. Unseen and not as hurtful, but just as vexing, were the adjustments made by the Randallstown players and coaching staff on the way to their state 4A football championship.
When their 13-0 season ended Saturday with a 21-12 win over Wootton, the No. 1-ranked Rams completed the process of synchronization begun when coach John Buchheister replaced Ken Johnson, who moved to Chesapeake.
"Coach Buck changed the whole offense and defense around," said senior guard/middle linebacker Brad Topchik. "Both personality and teaching-wise, he differed from Mr. Johnson. We all missed Mr. Johnson at first. It took a lot of getting used to and the captains had to help."
Topchik, a tri-captain with Washington and lineman Wallace Baker, got personal satisfaction from "my successful adjustment going from fullback to being put on the line and letting other backs do the running." But Topchik, 6 feet 1 and 225 pounds, likes a challenge and, accordingly, prefers defense. "I like the one-on-one situations," he said. "I like the challenge of stopping a guy before he gets past me. The challenge is the best part."
Fittingly, with such an attitude, Topchik is a lacrosse goalie and has wrestled, too. This winter, though, he plans to weight train (he has bench-pressed 390 pounds) and lift competitively.
A 3.25 student with a 1,100 score on his SAT, Topchik is interested in meteorology and atmospheric science. Last summer, as an Orioles groundskeeper, he got a chance to watch the clouds from the bullpen and haul the tarp when it rained.
Topchik also respects the adjustment made by running back/cornerback Daniel "DJ" Dorsey, who hadn't played football since he was 13. Dorsey came out for this, his senior year, and became a starter and major contributor. "As the season went on he got better and better," said Topchik. "He proved he could do the job. He deserves a lot of credit for what he did."
Though he played youth league football, the 5-10, 160-pound Dorsey said, "I kind of lost interest in playing sports. I just wanted to concentrate on school. But, this being my last year, I wanted to do everything."
So he came out for football, and had to adjust to the physical play, if not a new coach. "I fired myself up and took on the role I was given," he said. "I wanted to quarterback, to tell the truth, but Shaun Poulton was the quarterback . . . Blocking is fine by me because I like to hit. I like the contact. I came to enjoy it again.
"I'm surprised I ran the ball as much as I did," said Dorsey, who rushed for nearly 500 yards. "I didn't think I'd do as well as I did this year or adapt as well as I did. The real encouragement came from my father."
Dorsey is an honor roll student who's interested in drafting and architecture. "He's one of the best students on the team," said Buchheister. "He'll come up and hit people hard and has the quickness to go deep. I'd like to have 10 of him. Same with Topchik."
Buchheister himself was faced with a new environment after 13 successful years at Milford Mill. Sometimes crusty and vociferous -- "You don't listen to how he says it," said Dorsey, "you listen to what he says," -- the coach also had to deal with a new staff and cast of administrators.
"The biggest adjustment I had to make," Buchheister said, "was to convey to the coaches what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do them. And, working within a system I hadn't created."
Now, with the transformation complete, they can all start from scratch again next year.
Home Team Sports will show its taped broadcast of the Randallstown-Wootton game on Sunday, Dec. 9 at 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.