Howard, Oakland Mills expect challenges for title

September 09, 1994|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,Sun Staff Writer

When the serious pad popping begins today, preseason talk will become cheap and reputations meaningless.

The team that plays the smartest, runs the fastest and blocks the hardest throughout the season will be county champ and earn bragging rights that accompany the title.

For now, Howard and Oakland Mills are touted as the top teams, but teams such as Wilde Lake, Centennial, Atholton and Glenelg think they have a chance.

And they might. This season should resemble 1993 in that the title race is wide open. Luck again will play a large part in deciding which team takes the county trophy.

Howard was a team on a mission last season and deservedly wound up with its first county title since 1975.

But the Lions had a lot of luck. Their 8-7 win over Hammond and 21-14 win over Atholton both had elements of luck. So did the 20-6 win over Glenelg in which the Gladiators fumbled four times inside Howard's 10-yard line.

Howard (9-2) has eight returning starters, but graduated six All-County players and returns just one All-County player, quarterback DaLawn Parrish.

Parrish, a preseason All-America, should be the best player in the league this season. His athleticism creates innumerable problems for opposing teams. Last season, he passed for 772 yards and seven touchdowns and rushed for 513 yards and six touchdowns.

Parrish won the Atholton game on extra effort when he completed a 5-yard touchdown run with 28 seconds left by extending his arms into the end zone after being stopped near the goal line.

And he's an awesome defensive player. As a free safety he made five interceptions, recovered two fumbles and made 38 tackles.

Parrish will have a much deeper and larger offensive line to protect him this season, but it is also less experienced. Running backs Corey Curtis and Turrae Jones are talented, but have to fill the shoes of graduated county Offensive Player of the Year Guy Smith (1,119 yards, 15 touchdowns).

Howard plays six home games -- five at night -- and will be under the microscope because it is the defending champ. That means added pressure.

"We can't worry about that," coach John Quinn said. "We have to concentrate on being as good as we can and let the chips fall where they may.

"We have some young linemen and need work on tackling and blocking fundamentals. I told the kids it's great being champs, but doesn't mean we'll be champs again."

If an inexperienced defense plays well, then Quinn hopes to pass more than last season. If not, the Lions will resort to a ball-control offense.

Oakland Mills (5-5) hasn't won a county title since 1987, but has a proud and largely successful football history. The Scorpions dearly would like to write another championship page to that history. They've won four titles (1978, 1981, 1982, 1987).

The offense looks potent and features three returning starting linemen and returning running back Jake Daft (733 yards) and fullback Lang Wethington (565 yards).

Add Hammond transfer Irving Conwell at quarterback and Mount St. Joe transfer Fardan Carter at wingback, and the Scorps appear to have the best backfield in the county. Carter, a sophomore, is the fastest player in the county and runs 40 yards in 4.4 seconds.

Newcomers Conwell and Tayuan Hall should bolster the defense.

"Tayuan is our biggest hitter, our best defensive player," coach Ken Hovet said.

Conwell, a 6-foot-2 and 185-pound junior, is an All-County defensive back who had six interceptions and made 51 tackles as a sophomore.

Wilde Lake has won 13 county titles in 20 seasons so the Wildecats never can be counted out.

They return 12 starters from a rare losing team (5-6), but will start six sophomores and a freshman, so they'll be filling a lot of holes with inexperienced players.

The Wildecats don't have many "name" players returning other than running back Allan Anderson. But coach Doug DuVall thinks that sophomore defensive back Tony Jackson and sophomore linebacker Dain Lewis will make names for themselves quickly.

"We'll be improved defensively with our old attack-style defense that people are used to seeing Wilde Lake teams play," DuVall said.

Glenelg has gone 8-2 each of the past two seasons and finished second in the league both times. The Gladiators are rebuilding, so second place seems unlikely this season.

They haven't won a county title since 1985, missing out last season because they fumbled four times inside county champion Howard's 10-yard line. The Gladiators lost, 20-6, and finished 5-2, a game behind Howard.

Glenelg has two new coaches -- line coach Jeff Starnes, a former Wilde Lake fullback, and running back coach Matt Deming, a former Glenelg running back.

Centennial (4-6), a school not normally associated with football prowess, could surprise everyone.

Centennial's only county championship came in 1980 under Jim Welsch when the Eagles went 9-1. The school's football record since it opened in 1978 is 64-97. Only three of 16 teams have surpassed a .500 record.

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