Unbeaten status uplifts four former doormats Football: Gibbons, Patapsco, Loch Raven and Lansdowne have turned recent dismal records around. The story at each school involves positive coaches who are attracting -- and keeping -- more players.

October 01, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

When Scott Ripley played for Cardinal Gibbons, he lined up with running back Vaughan Hebron, now with the Super Bowl-champion Denver Broncos, and defensive back Roger Brown, formerly with the Super Bowl champ New York Giants.

Now coaching his alma mater, Ripley (Class of 1987) bristles when reminded of the past two seasons, when the Crusaders were a combined 1-19 under two coaches and rosters dwindled to as low as 15 players.

Not this fall, though. At 3-0, Ripley's team is one of four former doormats in high school football -- three in Baltimore County -- now experiencing unaccustomed success.

"We used to consider ourselves a power, but it was sad to look back and see how the program's been struggling," said Ripley, 30. "I want to get back to that point."

In the last three of veteran coach Frank Trcka's 16 seasons before he died of cancer in February 1996, Gibbons was co-champion with St. Paul's and twice was MIAA B Conference runner-up.

Benefiting from Ripley's JV squads, which were 15-5 before he moved to the varsity, Gibbons now has more than 60 players, and the Crusaders look forward to challenging the favorites in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association B Conference -- ranked McDonogh, 15th-ranked John Carroll and St. Paul's.

In Baltimore County, Loch Raven, Patapsco and Lansdowne are all 4-0 this season.

Each is looking to challenge for the county's Class 1A-2A league crown with favored Hereford, ranked 14th and the defending Class 1A state champ, and Randallstown, ranked No. 3 and a winner of two of the county's four state titles.

Patapsco coach Al Bennetta, 56, is in only his sixth year as the Patriots' coach. His experience, however, covers nine years as assistant to Frank Ewing when the Patriots had several strong seasons, including the 1970 squad that beat Randallstown, 14-6, for the county title.

A turnout of 56 players this year included nine returning starters, Bennetta said, and the bandwagon backing his program is growing.

During last weekend's 21-8 victory over Towson, 6-foot, 260-pound linebacker Bill Hook made a tackle for a loss that set up Joe Bena's momentum-changing touchdown. Recalling the scene, Bennetta turned nostalgic.

"Once in a while now, you get the same feeling as back in the early '70s, when we'd have big crowds at our Friday afternoon games," Bennetta said. "Our last night game, we had around 400 people. We hope to get more this Friday against Western [T&E]."

Under coach Ben Petrilli, Loch Raven reached the state semifinals six years straight (1974-79). This year, coach Chuck Weitz has 42 players, 13 of them returning starters, as well as others up from last fall's 6-4 JV.

Raiders' running back Jhamar Johnson has rushed for 718 yards and eight touchdowns, and Cliff Johnson has rushed for 221 yards and four touchdowns as a quarterback and intercepted three passes as a defensive back.

"We have an all-around better team than last year. Some seniors who didn't play have come back, particularly Jhamar Buckson," said Johnson. "We just hope we can continue to win."

Lansdowne has an unspectacular past in football, which includes only five winning seasons, eight winless teams and three other years in which low turnouts forced the Vikings to forfeit some of their games.

lTC This year's coach, Ted Bell, is the Vikings' third in as many seasons. But he appears to be building on the success his predecessor, Frank Meehan, had with last fall's team, which went 5-5 and sent linebacker Durrand Roundtree to Maryland.

"Our boosters club has quadrupled. They're manning the concession stands, raising money. People tell me attendance at games is three-fold," said Lansdowne's first-year athletic director, Bob Newton. "Where we had 13 or 15 players in the past, now we have 35 on varsity and 35 more on a JV that's 3-0."

That kind of success is rewarding for all concerned. As Gibbons' Ripley put it: "We're winning again, and I'm starting to get those positive phone calls from alumni."

Phone calls are coming in, too, for Gibbons senior Tony DeShields, a 6-foot-4, 260-pound linebacker who has attracted interest from colleges such as Maryland, Morgan and Towson.

"I've been on varsity for three years, but this is the first time we've been winning, and it feels good," said DeShields, who carries a B average. "If I can bring scouts to look at me, maybe they'll look at the rest of the program.

"Maybe they'll see us winning and look at my teammates."

Pub Date: 10/01/98

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