When we equate football with big business, we think of the huge dollars generated by the NFL and Division I college football.
We don'tthink of Wilde Lake High School.
In case you haven't noticed, tiny Wilde Lake, the smallest schoolin the state's second-smallest county, has turned into a veritable college football gold mine.
Wilde Lake isn't exactly breaking new ground. In Coach Doug DuVall's 18-year run, the Wildecats have produced fine college talent -- like Eric Brooks, who went to Kentucky on a football scholarship in the mid-1970s; Jim Traber, who got a free ride to Oklahoma State in the early 1980s; and Jack Bradford, who helpedWilde Lake win its first state title in 1985, then attended Marylandon a football scholarship.
But the last two seasons have secured Wilde Lake a place on the state's football map that few high schools enjoy.
"The (college) recruiters start at three places when they come to Maryland," DuVall said. "They go to DeMatha (Montgomery), theygo to Poly (Baltimore City) and they come here."
For the past twoyears, recruiters have jammed DuVall's office. Last year, after the Wildecats wound up their first undefeated season and won their secondstate title, they sent seven seniors to colleges on scholarships. Raphael Wall (Maryland) and Ricky Rowe (Penn State) led the way.
DuVall called it his biggest recruiting score ever. He calculated nearly$500,000 in scholarship money generated by that group.
Then, along came this year's team. An undefeated season, another state title, followed by more recruiting madness. And by DuVall's count, a recruiting record.
"We should go over half a million dollars (in scholarship money) when it's done," he said. "This should be our best year ever."
The Wildecats trotted out four seniors Wednesday on the first day of the National Collegiate Athletic Association's signing period.
Brent Guyton, the best defensive player in the Baltimore metropolitan area, signed with UCLA, becoming the first Wilde Lake player to end up on the West Coast. James Easterly, the 6-foot-6, 300-pound lineman who helped the Wildecats go 26-0 over two seasons, signed with Georgia Tech. Cornerback Andre Martin is waiting for academic clearance to join Maryland. Wide receiver Ira Crawley signed with Morgan State.
Receiver Pat Brown has been accepted at West Point. Seven more seniors -- George Bradford, Damon Hamlin, Phil White, Blaize Connelly-Duggan, Tony Farace, Steve Alleyne and Brandon Easterling -- will decide in the coming weeks where to continue their education and football careers. Most are fielding offers from Division 1-AA and Division II schools.
Twelve of the 19 seniors on Wilde Lake's roster figureto collect a football-related scholarship.
Before the 1990 season, DuVall figured that his program had generated about $2 million in scholarships over 16 seasons. By his count, the last two teams will have added another $1 million.
That's a remarkable achievement for any school, but Wilde Lake deserves special mention, simply because the Wildecats have turned logic on its head.
Wilde Lake's enrollmenthas been shrinking steadily for several years. In 1990, the Wildecats had barely enough students to qualify for Class 2A status, yet won it all in what then was the most competitive class in the state.
Last fall, Wilde Lake dropped to 1A status. Still, drawing from a total population of only 385 boys, the Wildecats fielded a 32-man roster,dominated the county and won a second straight state crown.
How do they do it? Great coaching plays a huge role. No one assembles a team, prepares it, scouts opponents or teaches fundamentals better thanDuVall and his staff.
And the program certainly has benefited from timely, talented transfers. Easterly came from Oxon Hill two years ago with no football experience, just the ultimate football body. DuVall turned him into a big-time Division I prospect. Martin transferred from Bishop McNamara last fall. The Wildecats could not have won the title without him.
"It all comes down to filling uniforms," DuVall said. "We don't miss anyone here. We know everyone's name. If there is a player walking the halls, we find him."
Can the Wildecats, who have yet to lose a game in the 1990s, keep this up as the talent pool gets smaller? DuVall thinks so. He has another fine group of junior varsity players ready to step in and fill varsity shoes. He sees the student body swelling with the possible merger of Wilde Lake and the Howard County School of Technology. He sees Wilde Lake sustainingits reputation. He sees recruiters beating down his door.
"If we had 700 boys, it would be twice as easy," DuVall said. "The coaches and the players are working harder than ever. It gets increasingly harder, but we'll be able to do it."