They've had to endure too many losses and maybe change coaches to do it, but four schools that once rated as the area's best in high school football have returned to contention.
Nearly halfway through the 1991 season, Howard (4-0), Woodlawn (4-0), Calvert Hall (3-0) and Northwestern (2-0) are among the 17 teams that remain unbeaten.
Calvert Hall and Woodlawn were powers in the early 1980s, but slid in recent years, and Northwestern's and Howard's glory days were in the 1970s.
During 1980-84, Calvert Hall won at least seven games each season, but went 12-29 in 1985-88. Calvert Hall went 7-3 in the 1989, but last season the Cardinals slipped to 4-6.
The third-ranked Cardinals have experienced "a complete attitude change over last year," said coach Bill Mackley, in his fourth season. The big difference is an injury-free season, so far.
"Injuries took a toll on the attitude of the team last year," Mackley said. "We're still not overly talented in a lot of areas, but, with everybody healthy, the kids are able to concentrate on what it takes to get the job done."
Quarterback Luther Alexander was able to play in only one game last season. He has played in all three games this season, completing nine of 26 passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also has rushed 14 times for 102 yards and two touchdowns.
Middle linebacker Mickey Lippy, defensive end Sean Mackney and cornerback Lloyd Shifflett lead a defense that has limited opponents to 29 points.
"We've become a very aggressive team, because the kids believe in themselves and are absorbing what is taught. They're working together, and the coaching staff is working together. Most important, everybody is having fun again," Mackley said.
It always used to be fun at Woodlawn, where the Warriors were in the state playoffs seven times during 1976-83. But, in 1987-90, the Warriors had just one winning season.
This season, Woodlawn is off to its best start since 1986 and is ranked No. 15.
George Goudy, who coached the team in 1978-84, then returned in 1989, attributes this season's improvement to experience.
"Last year, most of our starters were juniors and sophomores, and they have another year of experience now. There is no substitute for that," he said.
Several players have stepped forward to play key roles. Quarterback Rodney Petitt leads the offense, with Bruce Brown and Omar Johnson in the backfield. The defense is led by linebackers Devalin Anderson and McKinley Watson, as well as defensive back Vincent Montoute.
"We have no real stars on this team," says Goudy. "We have some very good football players, but we need to play as a team to win. So far, we've done that."
Howard had one winning season during the 1980s and a combined record of 29-70. The 1990s didn't get off to a good start, either, as the Lions struggled to 3-7 last season.
Coach John Quinn arrived in 1986, and now he is seeing a new breed of players at Howard.
"Recently, we've gotten better quality kids. We've gotten kids who have committed to football," said Quinn, formerly an assistant coach at Oakland Mills (1978-83) and Hammond (1984-85). "I caught the program as it hit the pits. We didn't have a commitment from the players. Howard always found a way to lose rather than to win."
Howard, which faces unbeaten and top-ranked Wilde Lake on Saturday, had to build from the bottom.
"We needed two very good, successful years on the JV level. Once that program got established, the kids learned how to win. They brought that attitude to the varsity," said Quinn. "We now have a set of expectations. The first is we're going into a football game to win it."
The Lions are winning behind a defense that has shutouts in three of the four games, allowing six points while scoring 18.
Linemen Bill Terry, Donnie Eaton and Mark McFadden, linebackers Adam Eldridge and Dave Jones and safety Kirk Wise have been the defensive leaders.
Northwestern was 20-70-5 in the 1980s. In 1984-88, the Wildcats were 2-42-1. Only Douglass' 0-43-1 record during 1982-88 overshadowed Northwestern's struggles.
All of that changed in 1989, when Lynn Badham was persuaded to take over as coach by athletic director Art Milburn. Badham, a longtime football and basketball assistant under Bob Wade at Dunbar, coached the Wildcats to a 6-3 finish in 1989 and 4-4 in 1990.
Each of the past two seasons, the Wildcats were in the race for a division title. Badham already has brought the program back to respectability, but this season is different.
The Wildcats are just 2-0, but those two victories are significant. They beat perennial contender Dunbar, 10-8, in their opener. Last week they beat Mervo, 20-0.
Mervo was expected to be a contender in the Maryland Scholastic Association B Conference, but Northwestern's victory solidified the Wildcats' status as contenders heading into Friday's showdown with Edmondson (3-0).
Badham continues to fight the numbers at Northwestern. Turnouts always are low during the summer.