Temperatures soar in Ijamsville

High schools: The community will be rocking tomorrow night when little Urbana High puts its 38-game win streak on the line against perennial power Gilman.

September 06, 2001|By Kevin Van Valkenburg | Kevin Van Valkenburg,SUN STAFF

IJAMSVILLE -- It's the week of the biggest game in school history, and Urbana High football coach Dave Carruthers has a whale of a fight on his hands.

It doesn't concern politics, religion or education, but it promises to be as fierce as it is friendly.

"I've got guys arguing and fighting over who gets to run the [first down] chains during the game," Carruthers said with a smile. "Everybody wants to be on the chain crew. I'm not sure how we'll pick a winner."

That's simply the nature of things when you've won 38 consecutive games and three state championships, as Urbana has the past three seasons. And when opposing teams tiptoe into the quiet community of Ijamsville -- which Gilman will do tomorrow night -- they quickly find it's not so quiet here Friday nights underneath the lights.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Sports section about Urbana High School's football team gave an incorrect number for the Maryland state record for consecutive victories. Howard High holds the record of 47 straight football victories from 1971 to 1975. The Sun regrets the error.

Visitors find they aren't simply locking horns with one of the top programs in the state, but also an entire community that's come down with a fever for Urbana Hawks football.

"You can walk around this little town and feel like a celebrity sometimes," said wide receiver Billy Gaines. "It's pretty cool as long as you keep your head on straight."

If there is one thing Urbana's teams have done in six years under Carruthers, it's keep their heads on straight, which is why the Hawks are nipping at history's heels these days.

No team in Maryland high school football history has won four consecutive state titles or more than 42 straight games, but Urbana can accomplish both this season. Seneca Valley holds the record for consecutive wins from 1997 to 1999.

Standing in the way, however, is perhaps the Hawks' biggest challenge yet: Gilman, the three-time Maryland Independent Athletic Association A Conference champion and the top-ranked team from the Baltimore area.

The Greyhounds are also eager to rebound from a season-opening loss to DeMatha that wasn't as close as the 16-0 score might suggest.

"It's a good time for us to prove we're not just a little Frederick County school," said Urbana senior linebacker Brian Anderson. "Every year, people doubt us, and every year we reload and win. Gilman is a great team, maybe the best in the state. Maybe if we pull this off, we'll finally get the respect we deserve."

If Carruthers has a magic recipe for football success, he's either not telling or he's unaware of it. "Everyone asks, `What's your secret?' " he said. "Truth is, I don't know. And if I did, I'd probably screw it up."

Unlikely, considering his track record and the path he took to get here. Long before he tasted success at Urbana, Carruthers had honed his coaching skills guiding youth football in Damascus. After graduating from Penn State, it was the only coaching opportunity he could get.

But, eventually, one job led to another, and, before he knew it, he had the head-coaching position at Linganore, where he would spend 16 years slowly shaping a tepid program into a power, winning two state titles.

Carruthers is the first to admit he isn't a master tactician, just a soft-spoken leader who knows how to push the right buttons with kids.

"I don't think coaching is all X's and O's," he said. "You have to be able to relate to kids. It sounds a little corny, but I think if kids want to play for you, they'll do anything you ask them. That's the main thing I try to get across, that I care about them."

So when Urbana opened its doors in 1995, Carruthers, in search of new challenges, jumped at the opportunity to start from scratch. The first year, the school had ninth-graders only.

"I always say that if you're coaching because of something you're getting from it, you're in the wrong business," he said. "Working with those young kids was the best thing that could have happened to me."

Those "young kids" quickly became precocious sophomores playing a full varsity schedule the next season. They took plenty of lumps, Carruthers said, but by the time they were seniors, they were good enough to go 13-0, setting a standard that's imbedded in every player's mind: No senior football plater at Urbana has ever experienced a loss.

Former Hawks quarterback Zach Mills, now at Penn State, and kicker Josh Brown, who plays at South Carolina, both stopped by this summer to encourage the players to keep the streak alive.

"A state championship is the most important thing to us, but the streak is a once-in-a-lifetime chance," said Gaines, who has orally committed to play for the University of Pittsburgh. "No one wants to be the team that lets down."

And that's a big part of the reason why all the parking spaces at the football stadium will likely be filled two hours before kickoff tomorrow.

Urbana's philosophy is: We're in this together. It's like a disease, the locals say. Everyone's got it, but no one is looking for a cure. And when word came down last season that the Hawks, who move up in classification from 2A to 3A this season, would open with perennial power Gilman, you couldn't keep a lid on the excitement.

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