Judging by the results of the season's first two weeks, Howard High football coach John Quinn's decision to place the Lions' fate largelyin the hands of new players has proved to be the right call.
Two-thirds of Howard's 30-man roster consists of first-time varsity performers.
Twelve of those newcomers, most of whom were promoted from a junior varsity that went 12-3 over the previous two seasons, have earned starting roles.
And one of them, junior running back/defensive back Kirk Wise, is a huge reason why Howard has bolted to a 2-0 start.
Take Wise's performance in Friday night's 14-6 victory over visiting North Carroll (Carroll County).
While North Carroll took a 6-0 lead on its first possession -- a 65-yard drive that consumed more than seven minutes of the first quarter -- the Lions offense stalled in its first three possessions.
On their fourth try, however, the Lions caught fire, and Wise was their torch.
His five carries keyed anine-play, 73-yard march that culminated with junior quarterback Brad Stubbs' one-yard touchdown run with 3:23 left in the first half. That turned the game into a 6-6 tie at halftime.
Then, on North Carroll's opening possession of the second half, Wise produced a game-winning play.
He leaped high in the middle of the field to intercept a pass by Panthers' quarterback Kyle Blackburn, cut to his left past several tacklers and sprinted untouched down the sideline for a 60-yard touchdown.
The season is only two weeks old, but the Lions already are growing accustomed to Wise's act, which includes 4.55-second 40-yard -- speed and excellent cutting ability.
In Howard's season-opening, 26-0 victory over Parkville nine days ago, Wise rushed for 101 yards and returned a punt 70 yards for a touchdown.
Friday night, he rushed for 62 yards in addition to his interception return. Healso managed to overshadow a great effort by senior running back Dave Jones.
Jones carried 12 times for a game-high 101 yards, pickingup the largest chunk of Howard's 180 rushing yards.
His 50-yard burst late in the third quarter got the Lions out of a hole deep in their territory.
But the night mostly belonged to Wise. Before picking off Blackburn's pass, he sparked the Lions' lone scoring drive by gaining 53 yards on five carries.
The drive included a pair of 12-yard sweeps in which Wise knifed through several North Carroll tacklers.
"He has looked terrific," Coach Quinn said of Wise.
"He's got a good complement of people around him, but he has been our big-play guy so far. He's been our spark. He's the show."
While the Lions helped themselves by not committing a turnover, Howard's defense also put on a pretty good show.
After surrendering the game's first touchdown with 3:43 left in the first period, the Lions permitted only two first downs the rest of the half, while North Carroll could notpenetrate beyond the Howard 40-yard line.
The defense took North Carroll out of the game in the second half, forcing three turnovers during the Panthers' first four possessions.
Following Wise's interception, the Lions recovered a North Carroll fumble at midfield with 9:20 to go in the game.
On North Carroll's next possession, seniorMark McFadden intercepted Blackburn at Howard's 45-yard line.
TheLions then had to survive a last-ditch effort by North Carroll.
The Panthers blocked a Howard punt with 3:55 left and took over on theLions' 43-yard line with 3:53 left.
Eight plays later, on a fourth-down-and-goal at the 8-yard line with 51 seconds left, sophomore defensive back Carlton Fox knocked down Blackburn's pass in the end zone.