When he talks about Howard County's high school football picture, and where his team fits into it, John Quinn's voice takes on a tone of resignation.
"It's going to be the Big Two, then the rest of us fighting it out," says Quinn, the coach at Howard High School. "All sixof us are in the same boat. What else can you say?"
That pretty much sums up the league this year, as it has for muchof the past decade.
The Big Two, of course, are Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills.
Wilde Lake has won or shared eight county titles and won two state championships in the past 11 seasons. Oakland Mills hasdethroned Wilde Lake twice over that span, and in non-title years the Scorpions traditionally have offered the Wildecats the stiffest challenge.
This year figures to see little change in the top of the standings. Wilde Lake, coming off its first undefeated season and its second Class 2A title, returns numerous key players. Oakland Mills, which fell one victory short of the 3A championship game last year, lost Player of the Year Korey Singleton but still will field enough talent to give the Wildecats a legitimate run.
From there, we proceedto the county's predictable second division -- the Other Six.
Centennial may have the best chance of a breakthrough season. The Eagles, under second-year coach Ed Holshue, have more speed than they've had in years. Mount Hebron is another team blessed with speed at skill positions.
Hammond, on the other hand, fields the biggest, strongest group Coach Joe Russo has seen in his 14 years there. Glenelg, Howard and Atholton figure to struggle. Atholton is trying a run-and-shoot offense in the hopes of reviving a moribund attack. Glenelg is learning a brand new system under first-year coach Ed Ashwell. And Howard hopes an infusion of successful junior varsity players will shake the Lions out of mediocrity.
No matter which of these teams climbs to third place, though, the football landscape figures to take on thesame old shape this fall.
"It's always the same two guys," says Holshue, talking about Wilde Lake and Oakland Mills. "Sometimes you wish you had your own (six-team) league, so you'd have a chance to win it."
Here is a look at each team:
The Raiders are looking to put their worst season since 1981 far behind them. Atholtonwent 2-5 against the county, 3-7 overall, and lost five games by at least 23 points. It was only two years ago that Atholton tied Wilde Lake for the county championship.
Coach Don Van Deusen enters his 18th season with major changes in mind, the primary switch being an adoption of the run-and-shoot offense. The pass-oriented attack, which features four receivers, a single running back and no tight ends, is designed to spread defenses and create seams for receivers and quarterbacks to exploit. Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall is trying the same system this year.
Considering how well Van Deusen prepares his players, the Raiders will probably make it work. And why not try it? Atholton managed only 13 touchdowns in 10 games last year.
Senior quarterback Brian Van Deusen completed 66 passes for 714 yards and eight touchdowns after winning the job at midseason, and he has grown four inches since then, to 6-foot-2. Van Deusen will have two proven receivers to work with in seniors Brian Gick and Brian Smith. Gick caught 33 passes for 413 yards and four TDs last year. Smith caught 17 for 202 yards. In the backfield, sophomore Carlando Love, who moved up fromthe junior varsity, has been impressive in camp. His 4.7-second 40-yard -- speed will be a welcome sight.
Atholton's weaknesses are a lack of size and depth. The Raiders return six starters, and will count on eight or nine two-way players to carry them. That will probablyhurt the most on the offensive and defensive lines, where returning seniors David Keyser, Brandon Miller and Geoff Martiny will feel the pressure. Senior Brian Hannah and junior Kevin Nickey will anchor the4-4 defense at the middle linebacker positions.
TheEagles were a respectable 5-5 last year, but second-year coach Ed Holshue points out, "We didn't beat anybody with a winning record. In that regard, I don't know how much we accomplished."
Centennial figures to satisfy Holshue's appetite more this year, mainly because of a group of seven returning starters with more speed than the Eagles have seen in years.
In the offensive backfield, seniors Brian Kujawa (fullback) and Sean West (halfback) look like an excellent tandem. They combined for 1,400 yards last year, each sports a sturdy 5-11, 200-pound frame and each brings along 4.7 speed. Seniors Keith and Kevin Greene bring more speed to the receiver positions, and Lawrence Holmes, who started at safety last year, moves in to take the snaps at QB. The line is anchored by senior guard Charlie Stewart.