Super Sophs

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

For talented trio of high school stars in title games today, poise belies age

State Football Championships

December 09, 2006|By MILTON KENT

You look into the eyes of Carroll Washington, because that's usually where the pin in the balloon of bravado and braggadocio that surrounds an athlete is found.

You look for a sign, anything, that will let on that the moment at hand, today's state championship game and all that comes with it, has reached Washington, Edmondson's starting quarterback, and reduced him to Bambi with an 18-wheeler bearing down.

Those signs aren't there. Washington, who will guide the No. 3 Red Storm against McDonough of Charles County in the Class 2A final, is all hakuna matata.

No worries.

"I see at the end of the game us, hopefully, being victorious and standing in the middle of the field, saying we did it. The feeling is just unexplainable," said Washington, a sophomore.

Perhaps Washington is so cool because he hasn't been around long enough to know that what he will face at M&T Bank Stadium this afternoon is entirely different from what he has seen this season.

"I've heard a lot of people say that the things that I've done are not expected from 10th-graders or sophomores," said Washington, who has thrown for 10 touchdowns and run for six more in Edmondson's 12-1 season.

That statement applies to two other precocious sophomores playing important roles in today's trio of championship games, each of whom could be honing his craft in junior varsity, but instead is going for a trophy.

"For the most part, a lot of kids are groomed," Edmondson coach Dante Jones said. "But these ... kids in question are exceptional athletes and if you put them in the right system and around the right coaches, they just blossom. A lot of people might want them to sit and wait, but when you have talent like that, you have to find a way to get them on the field."

River Hill running back Michael Campanaro has scored 18 touchdowns this year in a variety of ways - including rushing, receiving, returning punts, returning interceptions and returning fumbles -to become a key cog in the top-ranked Hawks' run to a Class 3A title.

The gaudiest of the sophomores playing today is Dunbar's Tavon Austin, who, in his second varsity season, has run for nearly 1,600 yards and scored 29 touchdowns in a number of offensive roles, along with six interceptions on defense.

Four of Austin's scores came in the No. 10 Poets' 26-20 semifinal win last week over Elkton, including the winning score, an exceptional 33-yard run on fourth-and-nine with 1:45 to play.

More impressive, however, was his first touchdown: Austin gathered in a long pass at about the 20 on the left side, juked a defender, crossed the field and scampered in for a 78-yard score. What made the run so remarkable was that Austin showed the maturity to allow a teammate to get downfield and throw a block that freed him to reach the end zone, something Dunbar coaches said he might not have done last year.

"I just try to be creative on the field," said Austin, with a grin. "I saw the play down there on the field, where I scored, and I had to wait on him [the downfield blocker] and then I cut it back across."

Said Dunbar coach Ben Eaton: "He's phenomenal. We had chapel after school [last week] and some of the kids talked about blessings. All my kids are blessings to me, but he is just so special."

Jones feels similarly about Washington. He must; why else would he hand the reins of his team to a player who at this time last year was playing on the Northwood Pop Warner team?

Washington won the starting job in preseason and has integrated himself in the offense just by fitting in. There are enough older, more experienced players around so that Washington doesn't have to be a teenage Brett Favre, just who he is.

"I think they [his teammates] understand who I am and what my capabilities are," Washington said. "As far as leading, the seniors do a lot and I just come along and try to help out. Basically, I just do what I have to do."

Said Jones: "He can be one of the guys. The leadership is there. We have some strong leaders on that line of scrimmage. There's not a situation in the huddle where people are talking. We don't have any of that. He knows in the future, he will have to step up and that's going to be his place to take."

In the immediate term, Washington's place to take by day's end could be standing with teammates next to a state championship trophy. Not a bad place to be for a kid.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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