No longer a lost cause

Second-year coach Joe Holland took over a Douglass program synonymous with losing and has it poised to make the playoffs.


As a senior at City College in 1991, Joe Holland knew little about the Douglass football program other than that it was a loser.

"We were going undefeated in the [Maryland Scholastic Association's] A Conference, and I know they were always getting beat in the C Conference," Holland said. "I remember one season, they won their first game in like eight years and it was like they won the Super Bowl."

Now, as a coach trying to resurrect what used to be a winning tradition at Douglass, Holland is well-versed in the Ducks' past football futility, which includes a 38-109 record between 1989 and the start of this season.

During that time, Douglass enjoyed only two seasons above .500, 4-3 in 1991 and 7-3 in 1998. The Ducks' worst year was 1994, being outscored 312-8 and going winless in nine games.

But all of that has changed under the energetic Holland, a second-year coach whose Ducks have outscored their opponents 127-20 during a four-game winning streak that has them at 6-1 overall and 5-1 in Baltimore City's Division II. Holland has instilled loyalty and faith in his players, added structure and discipline and, most importantly, fostered a winning attitude.

"We look at ourselves as being as good as any team in the city," defensive back-receiver Sheldon Waller said. "If we play to our potential, we think we can beat any team out there."

The Ducks meet Southside on Friday before next week's showdown with Division II rival Carver, the city's lone remaining unbeaten team, in a se that should determine the league champion.

Holland took a lot of heat from his peers for accepting the job, but now his Ducks are on pace to qualify for the Class 2A North regional playoffs - the school's first-ever postseason berth - and he's got plenty to brag about.

"At first, my friends were like, `Why would you want to take over a program like that? It's a dead program.' But now, they see that we're scoring points, making plays, getting respect," said Holland, 32, a former All-Metro linebacker. "My big thing was to show people that we can have a good program here, with good kids and good coaches."

Football and futility weren't always synonymous at Douglass. The program flourished for four decades through the early 1980s when either Mack Payne or Roy Cragway ran it.

With Payne as coach and Cragway as an assistant, the Ducks won a city title during the junior year of quarterback Pete Pompey, a 1958 graduate who later starred at Morgan State and went onto coach for 31 years at Dunbar and Edmondson.

Over the next decade or so, with Cragway having replaced Payne, the Ducks rivaled teams at Poly and City, said Dunbar football coach Ben Eaton, a 1968 Douglass graduate along with Raymond Chester and Albert Johnson. Chester played for the Baltimore Colts and the Oakland Raiders and Johnson for the Houston Oilers.

"I was two years behind Raymond Chester and Ben Eaton, and in those days, we were a successful program because Coach Cragway was about you making your grades and looking beyond high school to being better young men," said Johnnie Foreman, 56, now the athletic director and track coach at Gilman.

"We were told that if you were a faithful follower, you'll be a trusted leader," said Eaton, who, like Foreman, admits to keeping an eye on Holland's team. "A coach has to come with morals, principles and, above all, do what he says he's going to do."

Having served as a Douglass assistant for two seasons prior to becoming the head coach, Holland used the players' trust in him to eliminate their apathy and indifference.

Upon being hired, Holland called upon one of the men he trusted most - his former high school coach, George Petrides.

"When I first got the position, I called him to ask him for ideas on how to approach certain things. As the defensive coordinator two years ago, I saw glimpses of desire and potential in the players," Holland said. "A few of the players, I knew I already had their ear. But I wanted, as assistants, guys who had been exposed to the same high-level coaching that I had, whom I thought would take aim at achieving the things I wanted to achieve."

Holland brought in former City and Frostburg State teammate Ron Wallace, a former All-Metro defensive back, and Ray Wilson, a graduate of Poly and the teachings of legendary coach Augie Waibel.

The trio established an offseason weight-training program, "which didn't previously exist here," Holland said. "And when school started, the coaches and I always made ourselves available."

Word spread about the coaches' commitment. The 17-man roster from a team that went 1-9 in 2003 swelled to 30 players on last year's 4-6 squad. This year's team had to be trimmed to its present 35 players.

The Ducks won their first game, 9-0, over Walbrook, and their second, 21-14, over Lake Clifton. But it was a 14-6 loss to Holland's alma mater, City, that may have been the best gauge of the team's quality.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.