COLUMBIA -- Only Wilde Lake coach Doug DuVall would think of enlisting an assistant to demand players remain seated during games. Such control might sound extreme for high school football. DuVall simply calls it "part of a grand design."
Never mind that his team finished the regular season 10-0 with seven shutouts. Junior varsity coach Dwight "Don't Call Me Dewey" Evans continues to frantically patrol the sideline, screaming at any player who dares leap from the bench in excitement.
Some might label DuVall a killjoy, but in fact just the opposite is true. Ask him about directing Maryland's 17-9 upset of Pennsylvania in the Big 33 game last July, and he replies, "We laughed so hard up there, I was sore when I came home."
The victory at Hershey, Pa., was only the second by Maryland's graduated seniors in seven years. But to this day, DuVall seems most pleased that two serious-minded assistants let their hair down enough to earn the nicknames "Lenny and Squiggy" from the players.
This is a coach with strict sideline rules? Well, as DuVall explains it, what if he can't locate a player for a critical substitution? Or what if a player trips over a headset cord and severs communications between the coaches?
Details, details. "We're not going to leave any stone unturned," -- DuVall vows. Hey, when you're the underdog, you've got to be creative. Wilde Lake wants to be considered the top team in the state. That's a mighty task for a school in 1A, the lowest of four enrollment groups.
Amazingly enough, it could happen. Earlier this season Wilde Lake became the first 1A team to earn the No. 1 ranking in the Baltimore Sun poll. It currently is ranked No. 2 behind City, but has outscored opponents 319-40 and owns the area's longest winning streak at 23 games.
On Saturday the Wildecats host Easton in the quarterfinals of the MPSSAA playoffs. They will be aiming for their second straight state title, and third in seven years. They won at 2A last year, but the school was reclassified when its enrollment dropped to 385 boys in grades 9-12.
DuVall, who turns 44 later this month, is in his 18th season, and his record stands at 154-34. He prefers to carry 42 players, but his current team consists of only 35 -- six of whom play both offense and defense. He'd love to oppose a 4A school for the No. 1 ranking, but readily acknowledges, "We'd run out of bullets."
It's a rare challenge -- Wilde Lake beat five 2A and five 3A schools for its 12th Howard County title this season -- but it's not one he finds especially rewarding. "It's not something I would want to do for a long period of time," DuVall says. "It's too tenuous. You're stretched to the max."
Yet rival coaches say if there's one man uniquely equipped to overcome such odds, it's DuVall. "He's got an unlimited amount of energy and effort he puts into his program," explains Chesapeake-BC's Ken Johnson, one of DuVall's Lenny and Squiggy assistants in Hershey. "I think he'd be successful in any leadership capacity."
DuVall deflects praise to his assistants in typical football fashion, but offensive coordinator Ray Dawes is the only one who has been with him all 18 years. Together, they had the pleasure of coaching that renowned high school quarterback, former Oriole Jim Traber, Wilde Lake '79.
Back then the school had nearly 600 boys, a good 200 more than now. The struggle to develop players is compounded by the lack of a junior high program, but DuVall and his assistants routinely visit the local middle school to make their presence felt.
Not that the Wilde Lake tradition needs promoting. "All the best kids in that school play football," Johnson says. At a recent practice, senior wide receiver Pat Brown spotted a group of 10 youths playing a touch game on a nearby field. "Those are the state champions of 1999 over there," he said.
DuVall doesn't just win, he does it with class, pulling his starters from routs, enforcing rules against taunting. His pre-game pep talks are legend. "Sometimes they even give the assistants chills," says Glenelg coach Ed Ashwell, the Wilde Lake defensive coordinator until this year.
How long can he keep it up? Well, his original goal was to win 150 high school games, and now that's accomplished. Pursuing a college job, he says, is "a thought, but it
would have to be someplace local." Sit tight, pal: Towson State, Morgan State, Navy and Maryland are a combined 3-34.
Actually, DuVall is quite happy, in no small part due to his wife Jan, whom he refers to as Wilde Lake's "fifth varsity coach." Jan works at Social Security, but finds time to record game films, feed coaches, counsel players. "She's 100 percent football," DuVall says, still smitten after 17 years.
Assuming he remains at Wilde Lake, DuVall can look forward to 1995, and an expected merger with Howard Vocational that would double the male population of the school and force it to be reclassified as 3A. "Then it's look out," DuVall says, practically licking his lips. "Then it's Katy bar the door."
Maybe then his kids can stand on the sidelines again.
On second thought, maybe not.