Westminster High coach Jeff Oeming heads into the season with one good omen -- last year's junior varsity record.
But he also has one persistent worry -- the big play.
The Owls JV team was 7-1 last year, providing Oeming with a pool of talented, disciplined players to augment the 20 seniors he has on this year's 43-man roster.
But Oeming worries about the big plays of other teams. He knows his power-oriented team needs time to play its game on the ground and score touchdowns.
"Our offense has to bepredicated on not making mistakes," he said. "If we make mistakes, we can't make up for them. We can't make the big play. We have to playgood defense and not give up good plays. We are not a speed team -- it takes awhile for us to score a touchdown."
Their slow but steady style carried the Owls to a 5-1 record in the Central Maryland Conference, tying for first place for the second year in a row. Traditionally a power team, Oeming says the Owls "spend a lot of time in what I call a dead T" -- no wingback and three backs across the backfield."We don't make a star," he says of his habit of using six running backs. "No one back carries the ball."
The run-oriented offense is expected to be anchored by two-year letterman Todd Leppert and John Bird, both running backs, aided by newcomer Gabe Zepp. Running back Calvin Warfield, a senior, also could provide significant speed.
Lastyear's backup quarterback, 6-4, 170-pound Kirk Engel, is described by Oeming as "a passer first," but the coach is confident Engel's running will come along. Although he threw only a couple of times last year, Engel did throw for a touchdown.
Oeming doesn't feel last year's statistics tell the story for fullback Mike Hastings, because Hastings compiled them later in the season when the regular fullback played more as nose guard.
"We generally have had big fullbacks and play power football," said Oeming, who is confident the 6-foot, 200-pound Hastings will continue the tradition. "He's gotten himself in tremendous shape. He's quicker."
Running and lifting weights have paidoff for Hastings, who comes back trimmer and faster with a 4.9 clocking in the 40-yard --.
"In one camp he went 4.8," added Oeming.
And while the offense may take its time getting down the field, lookout if they get near the 30-yard line. Senior co-captain James Stumpis an All-Conference kicker who is consistent up to 40 yards. When the team falls short, Leppert, an All-Conference punter, steps in, averaging 35 to 38 yards.
Oeming is careful to temper any predictionswith a cautious attitude.
"It's real early to tell. The kids likefootball, and they are in great condition in terms of football. But the team still has to gel. We have some players who are used to winning; they've played on winning teams, but we're still trying to find our character.
"A lot of the teams this year are going to be improved over last year. . . . This is a year where a lot of teams have good players."
Oeming expects trouble from Linganore, Frederick and Thomas Johnson high schools.
That returning talent isn't a sure beteither.
"It takes a bit for the juniors to get up to snuff," Oeming said. "it's a big jump from junior to senior. We kind of stress the seniors are going to play a lot. These other guys, they're the seniors now and it's their team, but if we're going to be a good team, the seniors and juniors have to all contribute."