Shepherd's Baltimore connection

9 area players boost Rams' Div. II title hopes

September 01, 1999|By Kent Baker | Kent Baker,SUN STAFF

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- The channel between Charm City and this small college community reopened wide several years ago, sending a wealth of football talent westward to a school nurturing hopes for an NCAA Division II championship.

Nine Baltimore-area players who prepped in the city and Howard, Harford, Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties -- many of them overlooked or unwanted in recruiting -- are spotlighted members of a Shepherd College team that has national aspirations after a 10-2 season that included its first two games in the Division II playoffs.

Included are two All-Americans, a leading contender for the Harlon Hill Award (the division's equivalent of the Heisman Trophy), five who received mention on the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference all-star teams, a co-captain and nine potential starters.

No doubt Baltimore has been very, very good to the Rams, who finished 1998 ranked 13th nationally in Division II.

"We let go in that area for three or four years, and I really don't know why," said head coach Monte Cater, who launches his 13th season with a 76-48-1 record and shooting for an unprecedented third straight WVIAC title.

"Then, we had a renewed emphasis to get back into Baltimore because of the quality football. Sometimes, it takes time to get back into good graces after you've been away. Now, we've got a nice relationship there."

High school players in the metropolitan area don't know much about Shepherd, a West Virginia state school nestled along the banks of the Potomac River just across the Maryland line.

Typical was Harlon Hill hopeful Damian Beane (City), who has amassed 4,723 rushing yards over three years in Shepherd's one-back offense and hopes to become the first WVIAC player to run for more than 1,000 in four straight seasons.

"When somebody mentioned Shepherd to me, the first thing I thought of was Sheppard Pratt [hospital]," said Beane. "I had no idea where this school was."

" `Where's that?' was my reaction," said starting quarterback Matt Davis (Overlea). "But they wanted to offer me some [financial] help, so I figured I'd give it a look. I really like it now."

So does All-America return specialist-defensive back James Rooths (Carver Vo-Tech), who set an all-division NCAA record by running back five punts for touchdowns in 1998. "It's worked out pretty good here," said Rooths. "This program really stresses special teams. I liked that."

Most of the nine current Baltimore-area stalwarts heard about the school by word of mouth through former Rams assistant coaches or their high school coaches who had Shepherd ties. None was heavily recruited by Division I colleges except defensive lineman Chris Field (Severna Park), who was being pursued by Virginia.

Shepherd also received a break through the firing of ex-Maryland coach Mark Duffner, whose staff was looking at defensive back Keith Jefferson (Atholton) and Field.

The football facilities at the school are not ideal. The field is ancient by modern standards, and practice areas are distant. With the winning of the 1990s -- the Rams are 49-11-1 in this decade -- has come an increased fan following, but many enter the old stadium via the main highway without paying admission.

Those detriments have not tempered the glowing expectations for a squad that returns 16 starters, adds some promising junior college players, has its nationally ranked defense virtually intact and plans to open up its attack more to relieve the pressure on Beane.

"We really want a national championship," said Beane. "We want to accomplish what we did last year and go past the second round."

"Hopefully, we can go to Alabama [site of the Division II title game]," said offensive lineman Jay Green (Wilde Lake). "We want more than we had last year. We felt we could play with those playoff teams. Except for a few plays, a few mistakes we could have beaten Slippery Rock [a 31-20 loss in the finale]."

"It was a rough last game. We had a touchdown called back, a punt block and a key interference call against us in the fourth quarter," said Davis.

Those counting Beane's achievements -- he said he can reach Brian Shay's all-time Division II rushing record of 6,958 yards -- can find hope in hard work. Initially, Shepherd was looking at another city player when Beane asked for a chance.

"When he came, I thought he was the fourth-best running back in his class," said Cater. "He wasn't even the premier guy in his high school. But he had a gift and he used it. I'm going to feel real bad when he's done here."

Rooths was recruited as a wide receiver, "but we were thin in the secondary, so that's where he went. With his world-class speed, he would have been a great receiver, too," said the coach.

With all the success they have enjoyed, there is little remorse over missing the chance to play Division I football.

"The only difference is money. Division I has it," said Jefferson. "There are plenty of athletes at this level who could play in Division I."

"I had to gain some weight and really wasn't focused coming out of high school. I had to learn how to be a real football player, and I've done it here," said Green. "We work just as hard as Division I."

"I left Bowie State because some things weren't making me happy," said Mike Brown, an offensive lineman out of Edgewood. "As far as winning was concerned, I decided I wanted to go to a good Division II team. Shepherd was the best in the area."

"I dislocated my shoulder in my senior year in high school, and Division I schools thought I was damaged goods," said Davis. "So, I wound up here, and it couldn't be more exciting."

Pipeline to W.Va.

Key Baltimore-area players at Shepherd:

Name, Pos., High school

James Rooths, DB, Carver Vo-T

Keith Jefferson, DB, Atholton

Matt Davis, QB, Overlea

Damian Beane, RB, City

John Terrill, C C.M., Wright

Mike Brown, OG, Edgewood

Jay Green, OT, Wilde Lake

Marcus Boykins, OG, Atholton

Chris Field, DE, Severna Park

Pub Date: 9/01/99

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