The team comes first

High schools: With fewer individual standouts and more role players, the Wilde Lake High football team is stressing the team concept even more than usual this season.

October 29, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

One by one, the Wilde Lake High School football players reach for a small metal sign, thumping and thwacking it as they file toward the stadium.

They understand the message on the dented green sign, written in yellow lettering. It reads: "Every Player, Every Play."

Although it's an age-worn saying passed down for years in this Columbia football program, this season's Wildecats personify these words, shaping a team that is light on egos and superstars but strong on character.

Historically, Wilde Lake has based its identity on the skills of a couple of standouts. Not since the program's 1985 state championship team has a Wildecats team relied on so many role players with so many critical roles. In many ways, this team is greater than the sum of its parts.

Weakened by the loss of over half its lettermen, including six first-team All-Howard County performers, this year's squad has scratched to uphold one of the area's strongest traditions. Wilde Lake (7-1) must beat Glenelg and Mount Hebron in its final two games to have a chance at making the Class 3A state playoffs.

Over the past five weeks, the Wildecats have won four games by margins of a touchdown or less. Twice, the victories came at home on the last play in overtime. Luck was a factor against River Hill, which missed a game-tying extra-point attempt. Against Oakland Mills, determination paid off in a broken-tackle run for the touchdown.

The dramatics have seemed to strengthen the tight bond among teammates. Players have prayed together before games. They have jubilantly piled on top of each other in the end zone after the two overtime victories. They have embraced after emotional wins.

"They are a bunch of good players who play extraordinarily together," coach Doug DuVall said. "Individually, I don't have a great player. But what makes this team special is that they epitomize team."

Of the 43 players, consider four who lift the Wildecats from marquee positions and less-obvious spots:

Senior quarterback Chad Fawcett has asserted himself as a leader, learning how to give direction and focus in his first and only season as a varsity starter.

Junior running back Mario Merrills delivers a calming influence with his spirituality while displaying on the field why he is Wilde Lake's top Division I prospect.

Senior punter Nyema Wilson provides the comic relief during practices but views football as his steppingstone into college.

And junior reserve Comer Norwood manages to squeeze time as a member of the practice squad in between school, a part-time job and his household chores, knowing his chance to start is still a year away.

The leader

Chad Fawcett had the solid resume of a team captain, having played point guard for the basketball team along with being named editor-in-chief of the school newspaper. Still, the senior quarterback, known for having one of the strongest arms in the county, had never started a varsity game. His season began as his first pass of the year was intercepted by Calvert Hall in a scrimmage.

During the first two weeks of practice, offensive coordinator Scott Swope had to continually tell Fawcett to speak up in huddles. DuVall also took him aside, directing him to motivate certain players during practice.

"It was weird to come out and tell kids, who last year never paid no attention to me, what to do," said Fawcett, who is 6 feet 2, 182 pounds. "Then if they don't do it right, I got to talk to them."

During the first two games, Fawcett knelt on the sideline when the Wilde Lake defense was on the field, 5 yards away from the nearest teammate. He watched quietly and showed little emotion.

But on Sept. 18, Wilde Lake and Fawcett had their season's first test at Howard. While the Wildecats lost, 33-14, they grew as a team, finding a leader in Fawcett.

He roamed the sideline, screaming and clapping louder than anyone in an attempt to push his teammates. Other times, he challenged some of his 300-pound linemen to play tougher and directed his receivers to run routes based on his read of the secondary.

Before Wilde Lake's pivotal 13-10 win over Oakland Mills on Oct. 16, Fawcett stood in the hallway and slapped hands with every player, saying, "This is the game we've waited for, fellas."

"He's a natural leader," DuVall said. "I think all he needed was a nod."

Said Swope: "I actually told him that's he's now too concerned with the rah-rah aspect. As a quarterback, his job is to have his head into the game and not let his emotions get too carried away."

Once Fawcett drives his 160,000-mile Nissan Sentra to school, he is uncomfortable dealing with the glamour of being quarterback. But he knows his time as quarterback will soon be behind him. Fawcett has a 3.7 grade-point average and is considering James Madison, Maryland and New York University. He has decided to concentrate on academics and not play football in college, even though he probably could start at a Division I-AA or III school.

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