North County football coach Chuck Markiewicz tells his players that practice should be fun, not funny.
The Knights had plenty of good times this season, winning eight games and a share of the 4A league championship. And inspiring much of the enthusiasm was Markiewicz, the Anne Arundel County Sun 1991 Football Coach of the Year whose innovative offense and positive attitude resulted in the school's first playoff berth.
Another reason for North County's zeal was 6-foot-3, 190-pound senior Anthony Walker, who excelled on both sides of the line in being named the Anne Arundel County Sun 1991 Football Player of the Year.
FOR THE RECORD - Due to an error by the photography department, the photograph that accompanied Sunday's story on Anthony Walker, the Anne Arundel County Sun's 1991 Football Player of the Year, was not of the North County High standout.
Walker, who rushed for nearly 800 yards as a runningback and collected 141 tackles as a linebacker, is pictured here.
Walker, 17, led the Knights with 786 yards rushing during the regular season, and added another 194 yards receiving. He had touchdown runs of 80, 70 and 60 (twice) yards called back because of penalties.
But that's only half the story.
A combination of power and speed, he made life miserable for opposing ball carriers from his inside linebacker position, where he registered 141 tackles, 88of them solo, during the regular season.
"People talk about our quarterbacks, but the reason we could do what we did offensively was because we had Anthony Walker on defense," Markiewicz said. "To play ahigh-risk offense, you've got to have a strong defense. Walker was the cornerstone.
"He has the kind of tools you don't teach -- speedand a nose for the ball. When you show him something, he picks it upright away. He's a student of the game."
When asked if Walker wasthe best defensive player in the state, Markiewicz answered, "I've had a couple college recruiters telling me he is," a reference to the interest expressed by Division I Syracuse, Clemson, Tennessee and Pittsburgh.
Walker, who runs the 40-yard -- in 4.3 seconds, said North County defensive coordinator Brad Wilson "stresses attitude" from his linebackers.
And with attitude came the type of hits that oftenseparated runners from their senses.
"Coach says to hit them and make them not want to run the ball again," Walker said.
Walker himself would have liked to have run the ball more, especially after a sophomore year at Brooklyn Park when he led county rushers with 985 yards.
But the opening of North County the following year brought both Markiewicz and the end of the Power-I formation that made Walker an instant star.
He only carried the ball 41 times for 202 yards last season while spelling senior Vernon Dawson, but became a more integral part of the offense this fall with 123 carries.
"When I gave him the ball, I always thought he was going to break one. He always had that chance," said North County junior quarterback/punter Eric Howard.
"A couple times during the season, I asked Coach to let me give him the ball more."
Markiewicz counters that doing so would have meant "keeping the ball away from (receivers) Damon Martin and TroyRoss," who combined for 78 receptions and 1,099 yards during the regular season.
"If I went to an I or wing-T and put a fullback in front of him, he could run for 1,600, 1,700 yards. But you'd only have two kids involved. Our way is a little more fair. We had 35 kids and we wanted to try to use them," Markiewicz said.
Walker, the only Knight to play both offense and defense throughout the season, did carry 35 times for 288 yards in the three games prior to the state quarterfinals, where North County suffered a 39-0 loss to Oxon Hill of Prince George's County.
"Coming in, I knew we didn't run the ball a lot. With the type of offense we had, we were going to be passing. I figured I'd get at least 10 or 12 carries a game," he said.
"At Brooklyn Park, I was used to getting the ball 17 times a game. But coming here, it didn't bother me because the team was doing well."
So well, in fact, that North County finished as tri-county champions withOld Mill and Severna Park, proving wrong those who doubted a team with a "gimmick" offense like the run-and-shoot could thrive in the 4A league.
"Last year, we went 8-2, but we didn't play an all-4A schedule," Walker said. "Coming out this year, some people felt we weren't going to do as well, not make .500. We felt we had something to
Markiewicz kept insisting to anyone who would listen that the Knights could compete with established county foes like Severna Park, Annapolis and Old Mill.
"I wouldn't have said that if I didn't think we had the players and the coaches," he said. "I always feel like we can win. It bugs me when I read where a coach said, 'I just want to win three games.' That means you'll lose seven. You're not giving your players a positive message."
One negative for Markiewicz was the lack of an experienced quarterback. He began the year with unproven sophomore Reggie Moore, but switched to Howard midway through the third game.
Although Howard threw a county-high 26 interceptions, he also accounted for 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns.