A whole new mind-set

After nearly making the state playoffs for the first time since 1975 last season, a determined North Harford is asking, `Why not us?'

October 12, 2005|By JEFF SEIDEL | JEFF SEIDEL,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The play is listed as "Power Right 24" in the North Harford playbook.

It's a quick hand-off right up the middle, and the Hawks ran it time and again at Joppatowne last Friday. The basic dive play proved to be quite effective, as the Hawks used it to gain much of their 296 rushing yards in the 22-7 win.

North Harford's team slogan this season is pretty basic, too, and the Hawks are just as committed to it as they were to running "Power Right 24."

"Why Not Us?" is the Hawks' mantra after coming agonizingly close to making the state playoffs last season for the first time since 1975. North Harford went 7-3 last season but missed the final regional playoff spot by only 1.4 points (under the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's system, teams receive points for victories - the higher the opponent's class, the more the win is worth - and additional points for victories by defeated opponents).

Head coach Ken Brinkman knows about the pain of coming so close. He was the offensive coordinator at North Harford in 1999 when it came up eight-tenths of a point short of qualifying for the playoffs.

Brinkman believes things can turn out differently this season, however. The Hawks (4-1) have worked hard from the start this season, he said, and believe in their motto.

"Why not us this year?" Brinkman said. "Why can't we be a team that people talk about and people respect? Why not us finally?"

Joppatowne coach Bill Waibel won't argue. The Mariners were a Class 1A state finalist last year, and Waibel just shook his head at how well the Hawks played against his team.

North Harford was able to bully Joppatowne, especially in the second half, and came up with a win that gave the team plenty of early season confidence.

"They plain beat us up in the second half," Waibel said. "They beat us at our own game. I tip my hat to them. Ken did a nice job."

Brinkman has a core of starters from last year's team who remembered how close they came to breaking the school's playoff drought. He's got four starters back on offense and five returning on defense, but he also needed to work a number of less experienced players into the mix.

Sophomore quarterback Dan Griffin is a first-year starter getting used to running the team's multiple I offense, which uses lots of option and power. The Hawks don't throw much - they completed just two passes in the Joppatowne game - but Griffin has a strong arm.

Brinkman rotates senior Dean Thrasher (375 rushing yards), junior Bryan Woolson (348) and seniors Joe Ashley (225) and Cody Black (87 yards) in the backfield. Ashley and Black are fullbacks and are the lead blockers. The foursome have combined to score eight touchdowns.

In the victory over Joppatowne, Woolson ran for two short touchdowns, Black scored another, Thrasher added two two-point conversions and Ashley contributed some strong blocks.

The offensive line is comprised of first-year starters who've quickly found success. Brinkman said he's been delighted with their strong blocking - a big reason the Hawks scored 115 points in their first five games.

Seniors Garth Grove and Bryan Garrett, juniors John Bruchett and Mark Varvaris and sophomore Corey Jubb make up the line. Grove, the 5-foot-11, 205-pound center, got some playing time last year and said coming so close to the playoffs is a source of motivation.

"We were so close," Grove said. "We were heartbroken that we didn't get it. I think we have the potential to go to the playoffs this year to finish what we started last year."

Ashley said that this year's team has already grown closer than last fall's group, something he thinks could be helpful as the Hawks battle for a playoff spot.

"Last year ... it all came together at the end," Ashley said. "This year, it was right there [earlier] as a team. There's no one person looking to get himself his own credit."

The Hawks' defense deserves plenty of credit. North Harford has allowed only 39 points through the first five games, using a 3-4 defense that has enough speed to take care of the outside along with power to shut down the inside.

Varvaris and senior Steve Galbreath rotate at left end; Grove handles the middle; and senior Jerry Comeau works at right end. Ashley helps anchor the defense at middle linebacker.

"They're just a unit that plays hard," Brinkman said.

North Harford must play even harder this year, as it has been moved from Class 2A up to 3A. The change in classification landed the Hawks in the tough East region with a number of strong Anne Arundel and Howard County schools, including Wilde Lake and Long Reach.

Before last weekend's games, the Hawks are tied with Annapolis for the fourth and final playoff spot in the region. Once again, North Harford is in the hunt, and Brinkman said the players are doing everything they can to ensure the team doesn't fall just short again.

"They work hard and they're good kids," Brinkman said. "They do what we ask them to do."

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