At Randallstown, loss by football team is put into proper perspective

High Schools

September 14, 2004|By MILTON KENT

FOR GOOD TEAMS, it's not just the unexpected loss that stings, but the first practice afterward, where recrimination and rededication take place, where the pain is really felt.

So it was yesterday, when the Randallstown football team hit the practice field three days after seeing its top ranking and unblemished record fall hard in a 7-6 overtime loss to Eastern Tech on Friday night at CCBC-Essex.

The hill surrounding the football practice field bordering Offutt Road must have seemed like Pikes Peak to the Rams, but considering what the players have seen, heard and felt in the past four months, getting past a loss must have felt like child's play.

"If that thing last May 7 didn't kill us, then this sure won't," said Randallstown coach Albert Howard. "It's going to make us stronger. And that's what I think it's going to do. It's going to make us a much better team, make us a more focused team than we were before that loss."

That "thing," of course, is a shooting in which four Randallstown students were injured after a charity basketball game. Four men face attempted first-degree murder charges in the incident in which shots were fired in a parking lot jammed with about 70 students.

Senior quarterback Marcus McLain was one of the four injured, taking a bullet in his right ankle. McLain is reluctant to talk in great depth about the shooting, except to indicate that things are looking up at Randallstown.

"It was an experience getting shot, but it shouldn't happen again," McLain said. "I'm just focusing on what's happening now. Our school has changed. Everything has changed. We're going forward in a new way. We're looking in a new direction."

Indeed, McLain's hesitance to speak about the shooting no doubt stems from the weariness of the community, made up largely of middle- and upper-middle-class African-American families who moved to the area to escape crime, not to be reminded of it.

"We're constantly trying to build on the positive aspects of Randallstown, both on the football field and in the classroom and the community to negate that unfortunate situation that happened that one tragic day," said Howard, in his second year as coach.

"That's what we're up against. You feel like you're constantly on edge. You're thinking that the first time something happens, someone's going to say, `See? There they go ahead. I told you it was that kind of situation.' We're up against that."

Indeed, the Rams, who reached the Class 3A state semifinals last fall, are a source of pride for the area.

"The football team at Randallstown is the most popular thing here," said receiver Jamarri McCullough. "Everybody looks at the football players and checks us out to see what we're doing. If we're showing a positive attitude, that will show back in the school."

With McCullough, McLain, and lineman Melvin Aleaze all being sought by Division I colleges with scholarship offers and last season's success as a seeming foundation, the Rams entered the season with a world of expectations.

In truth, Howard says, Randallstown is in rebuilding mode. Twenty seniors from last year are gone, including the entire starting offensive line, and the entire backfield is inexperienced.

"To be ranked No. 1 in this area with as many great football programs as we have is based on the fact that we have three Division I kids and we had success last year," Howard said. "Do I think we're capable of being in the top three or five? Yes. But to be No. 1 at that point? We hadn't proved anything with this year's team."

The Rams acknowledged being outplayed Friday and plunged all the way to seventh in this week's poll, with a highly anticipated showdown with No. 2 Hereford looming Saturday.

But if pattern holds from last year, when Randallstown lost to Eastern Tech, then beat the Bulls the next week, Friday's loss will be a blip on the radar, a hiccup on the way to something better.

"It is out of the way now," McLain said of the Eastern Tech loss. "We're looking forward to Hereford. It's a game in the past. It's time to move forward."

Given all that's happened at Randallstown, you get the sense that the Rams have learned to how to pull something positive from something bad, as well as the notion that losing a football game is hardly the worst thing that can happen.

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