McDonogh and Gilman are again the best in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (formerly the Maryland Scholastic Association), with defending champ McDonogh (9-0) being the class of the area behind three All-Metro picks.
St. Paul's and Gibbons tied for last year's MIAA B title, but Gibbons returns eight starters and will get help from players up from a junior varsity that went 8-0.
City 4A League champ Patterson, which went 9-2 last year, returns 19 players, but Lake Clifton, last year's league runner-up, returns 20 players, including 12 starters.
It appears that City and Poly will continue their annual 3A league battle for supremacy, with last year's champ, Poly -- also last year's 3A state runner-up -- having the early advantage behind 11 returning starters.
A challenge could come from Carver, whose first-year coach, Ron Frierson, is excited about his 18 returning players, including 14 returning starters, from a .500 team.
Forest Park will try to defend its 2A league crown against Dunbar.
MIAA A Conference
All-Americans Bobby Sabelhaus (quarterback) and Dwayne Stukes (defensive back), as well as honorable-mention All-America wide receiver Dennis Badham, lead McDonogh, which returns 11 starters for new coach Dom Damico.
However, Gilman returns nine starters, including running backs David Biddison and R. C. Kauffman, who combined for nearly 1,000 yards last year.
"We think we've got two pretty good running backs. Our quarterback, Lorne Smith [6-4, 175] has good size and is a good thrower," said Gilman coach Sherm Bristow. "We have a good strong line, offensively and defensively, but we lost a lot on defense."
There are solid programs at Mount St. Joseph and Calvert Hall, but each has a new coach. Mike Working, formerly of McDonogh, takes over for the Gaels, and athletic director Lou Eckerl leads the Cardinals.
MIAA B Conference
The retirement of St. Paul's legendary coach, Mitch Tullai, whose replacement is Brian Abbott, makes the Crusaders an even bigger target. "We know teams will be excited to play us," said Abbott, who returns just four starters, including quarterback Tucker Radebaugh.
Gibbons is one of those teams, boasting wide receiver Corey Butts, who runs a 4.4-second 40-yard --.
Severn of Anne Arundel County and Boys' Latin are the other contenders.
"St. Paul's has some impact players, but I'd put Gibbons right there with them," said Boys' Latin coach Drew Haugh. "Severn's loaded up, but give us an outside shot."
City 4A League
Patterson has four senior Division I prospects in second-team All-City quarterback Willie McGirt, second-team All-City running back Ryan Lewis, linebacker Joe Mechlinski and two-way lineman Tyrone Bailey.
Lake Clifton (7-3 last year), a 14-6 loser to Patterson last year, looks to junior quarterback Greate White, running back Kenny Williams and Tory Gilliard (6-2, 260), who anchors a line that averages 240 pounds.
The addition of former Dunbar coach Pete Pompey -- who takes over at Edmondson -- makes things interesting.
City 3A League
Poly coach Augie Waibel says his Engineers (11-1 last year) should be "as good or better" defensively behind second-team All-Metro lineman Sebastian Smothers and three returning linebackers.
That's saying a lot, considering last year's Engineers allowed an average of fewer than five points per outing while scoring an average of 32.5 behind All-Metro Player of the Year Greg Kyler, now at the University of Tennessee.
City was 9-0 last year until losing its last two games to Poly, 21-20, and Frederick Douglass of Prince George's County.
The Knights return nine starters, including linemen Eddie Hooper (6-4, 290) and Jonathan Jones (6-2, 250).
"This is a team that will have to share the load since we have no stars," said City coach George Petrides. "But we have some potential game-breakers and a big line."
City 2A League
All-Metro Coach of the Year Stanley Mitchell enters his second year as coach at Dunbar (9-3 last year) with six returning two-way starters, including second-team All-Metro linebacker/tight end Tommy Polley.
Forest Park's strength is defense, where it returns three linebackers, including No. 2 tackler Damon Harrison.
Baltimore Co. 3A-4A League
Jack Bush, one of eight new coaches in the county, takes over at Randallstown. The Rams, who won the state 4A championship four seasons ago, are the favorite to unseat Perry Hall.
"We have worked very hard in practice," said Bush, whose team has a showdown with No. 8 Dunbar tomorrow at Randallstown. "The kids have responded well and I'm very pleased with the progress."
Perry Hall, the league's two-time defending champion, graduated the backfield of Mandel Marsh and All City-County performer Mark Franklin, and will have no returning starters on defense.
"We will get better as the season goes on," said Gators coach Joe Stoy, whose team will receive an early test at No. 14 Calvert Hall tomorrow.
Eastern Tech and Kenwood will have new coaches in Bob Ray and Greg Fuhrman.
Baltimore Co. 1A-2A League