Nowak's hands guide River Hill on victory path

Football: After an `average' season a year ago, Ben Nowak is fast approaching school records for receptions and touchdown catches, helping the Hawks to a 5-0 start.

High Schools

October 10, 2003|By Rick Belz | Rick Belz,SUN STAFF

River Hill's Ben Nowak had an average football season as a starting tight end a year ago. He was better known for his basketball prowess.

Now, the 6-foot-4 senior tight end and defensive end is breaking receiving records, hassling quarterbacks, tackling running backs and being talked about by an opposing coach as a potential Player of the Year.

His team, which has neither made the playoffs nor won a county championship, is 5-0 after winning consecutive remarkably close games against top county opponents, Long Reach and Oakland Mills.

Nowak's 12 catches in last week's 20-19 victory over Oakland Mills broke the school record of 10, and his 34 catches this season have him on target to break the Hawks' single-season receiving record of 50. His four touchdown catches also put him well within range of the school's season record of six.

"He's very good. He's their go-to man," said Atholton football coach Chuck Fales. "He catches. He runs. He's on the field all the time. He's their best player. He'll be All-County somewhere, and he might be Player of the Year, if he keeps going. Thirty-four catches in five games is pretty impressive."

His 34 catches are good for 380 yards, and he has rushed nine times for 73 yards and two touchdowns on end rounds. He has made 16 solo tackles, five assists, five tackles for a loss and two sacks.

"I didn't expect to be so involved," Nowak said. "It's just kind of evolved. But I'm enjoying it," said the second-year varsity player.

Last season, the Hawks finished 7-3 and lost some close, heartbreaking games. They are winning those games this season, and Nowak sees a clear reason for it.

"This team is much closer-knit than last season, and when things get tough, everyone really pulls together," he said. "We have good chemistry and hang out together on weekends. As a JV team, we were 10-0."

The schedule doesn't get easier for No. 6-ranked River Hill. Tomorrow, the Hawks play host to No. 8 Wilde Lake, a team that started the season ranked No. 1 by The Sun. Nowak doesn't think his team will be in awe of Wilde Lake, like it might have been in years past.

"The way our team is playing right now, it is hard to keep us down," he said.

Nowak said the team adhered to a strict training regimen all summer - four days a week in the weight room and running on the track afterward.

"Everyone is strong and in shape," Nowak said.

River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen has been pleasantly surprised by Nowak's accomplishments.

"We didn't originally think he'd get the ball this much, but he just keeps getting the job done," Van Deusen said. "Everyone keys on him offensively, so we just keep moving him around and changing our formations trying to get him open. He's tough to bring down against smaller defensive backs. He's our best offensive weapon, and he also blocks well."

Defensively, Van Deusen points to Nowak's long arms and quickness as the reasons he's giving bigger but slower opponents trouble.

"His long arms can keep other players off him," Van Deusen said.

Nowak has drawn the attention of a William and Mary football scout, and said he'd like to play football or basketball in college.

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