When the Kenwood High football team convened for summer practice, the players learned they would not be destined for the regionals no matter how well they performed.
The Bluebirds represent a Class 3A school playing a Baltimore County 2A schedule and therefore would probably not accumulate enough points to qualify for postseason play regardless of their record.
Besides, coach Fred Myers vowed not to take another deserving team's spot because of the discrepancy.
"Everybody was down," said senior halfback Joe Cofield. "The attitude was 'what's the use?' I had to talk to the guys and tell them that we could look other teams in the face and say, 'Maybe we're not going to the regionals, but we beat you.' After that, everybody looked at it differently."
Cofield has that knack. Like a favorite soft drink on a hot day, he is a pick-me-up influence on a team that a few years ago was struggling just to get enough players, an earlier-day Lansdowne. The program was in jeopardy.
Myers requested to play in the county's 2-A league, so his players could compete, and they won three games last season and are really rolling now -- at 7-1 with two to go.
But little did he know then that transfers like Joe Gray (from Lansdowne) and Cofield would arrive to provide a booster shot.
"I would have given anything to have had him for two years," Myers said of Cofield, who enrolled in late September 1991, too late for football. "I can't describe what a pleasure it is coaching him. All the coaches want him to be their son or for their sons to be like him."
"He's had it a lot tougher than a lot of kids," added Kenwood athletic director Jim Wilmot. "But no matter what, he has a positive attitude. It's contagious."
Cofield, a 5-foot-7, 160-pound senior, has teamed with talented split end Gray and fullback Demonte McKenzie to give the Bluebirds a diversified attack.
Through seven games , he had gained 951 yards on the ground on 83 carries and scored 10 touchdowns (and three two-point conversions). He is a now-you-see-him, now-you-don't runner with excellent speed who removes a lot of the pressure on Gray, often the target of double coverage.
Cofield played tailback for two years at Dunbar before the death of his mother, Sarah, led to his moving from Cedonia to Essex. He lives there with his brother, Ulysses, and helps with the family carpet-cleaning business on weekends.
The youngest of 11 children -- all of whom were athletes of varying ability -- he was very close to his mother. "She had kidney disease for nine years and died of a heart attack when I was 15," he said.
"The attitude comes from her. She spoiled me a lot, but I knew she wanted me to succeed. She always told me that whatever I did, to do the best I could. This season is dedicated to her.
"And I've always had enthusiasm and the need to pick up people. I like to take charge and get things on the right track. I guess I'm kind of a leader."
So much so that he was two votes short of being elected team captain even though he had never played a down and the other nominees were in their third seasons.
"We have a lot of gifted and talented kids who are kind of reserved," said Myers. "Joe brings out the other side of them."
He wants to be the first in his family to attend college on an athletic scholarship. A B-student, he is also a point guard on the Kenwood basketball team, averaging 12.3 points last season.
"Dunbar is kind of small, so there was a big difference here," he said. "There was a difference in population. But I like it. Coming from an all-black school, I had to adjust and learn to know a lot of new people. It opened me up."
He credits his line and McKenzie as the major reasons why he is thriving on the football field. The line averages less than 200 pounds, but is distinguished by players like 5-5, 150-pound guard Earl Henson, whom Myers calls "The Missile," 5-10, 155-pound David Orndoff and the more conventionally sized Frank Choi, Eric Hiltz, Harry Horney and Chad Burns.
Dunbar coach Pete Pompey was also a big influence on him.
"He showed me the value of the game," said Cofield, "and how to take the responsibility of caring for myself. He taught me how to grow up more."
He plans to major in business in college and work toward becoming a lawyer or certified public accountant.