Rebuilt Bulls find strength in first-time player Gilbert Football: Hereford continues unbeaten, with one of its newcomers, a senior who'd never played football, contributing nice numbers, as well as leadership ability.

October 16, 1998|By Lem Satterfield | Lem Satterfield,SUN STAFF

Building a state championship team around Jason Wingeart, a freshman soccer stalwart turned two-time All-Metro football player -- that was one thing.

But using a senior in his first year of organized football to replace Wingeart and hoping for similar success -- isn't that a stretch?

Not if you're Hereford coach Steve Turnbaugh and 6-foot-4, 195-pound Luke Gilbert is the player you selected.

Turnbaugh has received surprising efforts from several newcomers on his almost totally rebuilt, still unbeaten team, which some Baltimore County Class 1A-2A teams are itching to face. But Gilbert, the greenest of all, is producing veteran results.

A lacrosse and basketball player, Gilbert never had played football before Turnbaugh and assistant coach John Walters approached him last season.

Now the rookie split end and safety has three interceptions to go with five receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown.

He is a leader for the 11th-ranked Bulls, who are 6-0. The defending Class 1A state champs have won 30 of 31 games, including 19 straight, and have a 22-0 record since 1996 against Baltimore County teams, heading into tonight's game at Lansdowne.

Sure, other newcomers have contributed.

Quarterbacks Chris Lauer, a senior, and Sean Wdowiak, a junior, are a combined 24-for-38 passing for 378 yards and seven touchdowns behind linemen Jeremy Hundertmark and Adam Hendrix, the lone returning offensive starters.

Reg Cavender, a sometime starter last season, has 401 yards and nine touchdowns, followed by junior Matt Curtis (487, six TDs). Junior receiver Rob Bateman (6-3, 200) has 11 receptions for 220 yards and four touchdowns, having added 35 pounds from weightlifting.

Brenden Klekner, who had six interceptions last season, shines as the sole returning defensive starter.

But defensive coordinator Mike Blizzard can't say enough about Gilbert.

"We thought we'd never get close to a Wingeart, but Luke's smart [and] has good hands," Blizzard said. "Luke's physical, likes to come up for the big hit -- just like Wingeart."

Wingeart, who graduated with a school-record 25 career interceptions, is a reserve at Division III Western Maryland, ranked No. 1 in a preseason poll and now a 5-0 team with a 15-game win streak.

Wingeart and Gilbert were basketball teammates last winter, when Gilbert broke the school's single-season scoring record with 498 points. In lacrosse, Gilbert scored 45 goals and nine assists. Now the three-sport star is inundated with letters from Division I lacrosse programs, Division II and Division III in basketball, and from a mixed bag in football.

"If I go Division I, one or two of these sports will probably have to go," said the 3.0 honors student. "I can't comprehend that."

In the past, playing football seemed a stretch for the Gilbert.

"I played lacrosse, basketball, baseball, [and] soccer but never football -- and that was strictly because my father was injured when he was younger, playing semipro ball," Gilbert said. "But it clicked when Coach Walters said my destiny was pre-planned. I could get injured in any sport. Plus I always had a desire for football."

Gilbert was sold on Hereford's winning tradition.

"The [championship] rings, the newspaper articles. Coach Turnbaugh told me what he thought I could do with my physical abilities," Gilbert said.

At a summer football camp, Gilbert "learned the basics about running pass routes."

Gilbert's breakthrough came in a win over North Carroll, in which he had four receptions for 59 yards and a touchdown. He also intercepted three passes, the last in the end zone to end a promising North Carroll drive.

Also, on fourth-and-15 at the Panthers' 25-yard line, Gilbert's 20-yard reception set up Bateman's 5-yard scoring catch.

"My first game before a big crowd, big surprise," Gilbert said. "I had no faith in myself before that."

Pub Date: 10/16/98

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