Annapolis will kick off the high school football season Friday night against defending state Class 4A champion Randallstown. Pre-game ceremonies start at 7:15 as the Panthers officially will rename the field at Ensor Stadium in honor of Al Laramore.
Laramore, the longtime Annapolis coach who suffered a fatal heart attack two years ago, is the only coach in state history to have had teams win state titles in three sports -- football, basketball and lacrosse.
The game itself matches the perennial powers from Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties. Randallstown is riding a 13-game winning streak that includes last year's Class 4A state championship.
The state football playoff point system is so structured that teams losing two of 10 games may not gain a berth in the playoffs. Randallstown will be hard-pressed by Annapolis, Perry Hall, South River and Dundalk this season. Annapolis must get by the Rams, as well as county rivals Broadneck, Old Mill, North County and Severna Park.
Annapolis slumped to a 5-5 record last fall, but coach Roy Brown is optimistic his Panthers will rebound with a solid defensive unit spearheaded by linebacker Todd Selby, tackle Demond Galloway and end Danny Flynn.
Senior Richard Mears will guide the offense that features Selby at fullback and Shawn Cole at tailback. Sophomore Jerry Thompson also will get a chance to carry the ball in the crunching ground attack.
"The defense is better than last year," said Brown. "We'll have to come together offensively, though. The enthusiasm and effort is there, but we are inexperienced."
Randallstown coach John Buchheister lost 13 starters from last year's unbeaten squad.
"It just goes to show you I can coach talent," joked Buchheister. Last fall, Player of the Year Larry Washington rushed for more than 2,000 yards for the Rams. This year he's a freshman at the University of Maryland.
"We may not have a Larry Washington on this team, but we have better depth this year," Buchheister said. "We don't have a lot of experience, but these are great kids. Maybe the skill level isn't as high, but that makes the staff work harder to help them reach their potential."
Lamal Sheppard, a defensive end last season, shifts to right halfback and a pair of juniors, Haryn Singleton and Dante Boyd, will split time at left halfback. Nose guard Mike Jensen, a state wrestling champ, will move to offensive guard.
"Mike could be a good running back," said Buchheister, "but we need someone to block. We may not have the big-play guy, or at least we haven't discovered him yet, but we'll keep things simple and not make mistakes."