Sterling Jones sits on a concrete ledge above rusty metal bleachers at Edmondson-Westside High School watching the school band labor through a last rehearsal before tonight's football game. His feet dangle over the ledge, but it is hardly an image of relaxation. He nervously rocks back and forth.
The biggest game of his senior year is tonight, Saturday, Sept. 23, Edmondson versus City College under the lights at Polytechnic Institute's football stadium.
FOR THE RECORD - An article on Page 1A Thursday about the Edmondson-Westside High School football team should have referred to the state championship game against McDonough High School from Southern Maryland, not the McDonogh School.
The Sun regrets the errors.
It is still hours away, and the waiting has become torture.
The Red Storm coaches have fired up the grill nearby, and the air smells of charcoal and lighter fluid. It's sunny, and as the wind kicks up, a quiet memory flits into Sterling's mind.
"This is the kind of day you want to fly a kite, yo," Sterling says to Kyle Jackson, his teammate and best friend.
"I ain't never learned how to, yo," says Kyle.
"Man, I loved it. I loved my kite," Sterling says. "It was a Spider-Man kite. I only flew it one time, but I still remember it."
"Yeah," Kyle says, grinning.
For the next several minutes, they don't say another word.
Six hours later, Sterling stands near midfield of Poly's Lumsden-Scott Stadium, screaming toward the sky, barking at anyone within earshot. He's on the balls of his feet, bouncing from side to side like a prizefighter, and he pounds his chest, punctuating each word with a mixture of rage, excitement and provocation.
"We coming, shorty!" Sterling, a safety, screams across the field. "Westside coming! We coming, shorty! Westside! Somebody better get me a knife and fork, 'cause I'm hungry, yo! I'm hungry!"
Minutes ago, coach Dante Jones stood before his team in the drab, colorless concrete locker room and asked for a moment of stillness, then a prayer. He locked eyes with each of his players, beseeching them to play with passion and pride.
"It's time to show City who run the city!" he yelled, then he sent his team charging out of the tunnel onto the field. From the Red Storm fans in the metal bleachers -- many waving signs and wearing Edmondson's red and white colors -- came a swelling roar.
Now the team gathers at midfield, shoulder to shoulder. Kyle's eyes are slits, and the linebacker's face is frozen with malice. Linemen Dajuan "Boo Boo" Smith and Jerome Baskerville smash each other's shoulder pads, banging their helmets together. Cornerback Dionta Cox shakes his head, waving his finger, vowing not to surrender a catch tonight.
Tariq Jones, Edmondson's usually reserved running back, has worked himself into such a frenzy that tears run down his face and spill onto his crimson jersey.
Sterling glares across the field at City's players, in their white jerseys and shiny black helmets. For 10 months he has been waiting for this, ever since City beat Edmondson, 8-0, in the second-to-last game of the dismal 2005 season. He wants payback.
City wins the coin flip and chooses to receive.
At 6:58 p.m. the right foot of Edmondson kicker Keon Fisher strikes the ball, booming it high into the air and deep into the end zone for a touchback.
The waiting is over. No more uneven practices or tedious study halls. No essays to write on Beowulf, no more dances or funerals to attend, no more film to watch. In 48 minutes of football, the Red Storm players will learn whether they are what they believe: the best in Baltimore.
On the opening play, defensive end Alge Berry and Kyle slam into City running back Brian Dunston, stuffing him for a 1-yard gain. The Edmondson fans snarl with delight.
On second down, Kyle drives Dunston backward for a 1-yard loss. When Sterling collars a City wide receiver, holding him to a 7-yard gain, City has to punt. Sterling pumps his fist and bobs his head.
Even Edmondson's demanding assistant coach, Sam Walker, can't contain himself. "That's right! That's right!" he screams. "Good work, Sterling. That's the way to step up and make a play!"
Red Storm senior Alston Williams gathers a line-drive punt at Edmondson's 37-yard line, then breaks to his left, his feet pounding the turf. He dodges a tackler and cuts upfield along the sideline.
"Go, boy!" Dante Jones shouts, louder and louder with each stride by Alston. "Go! Go!"
He slips another tackler, darts into open space and, behind two good blocks, races toward the end zone. A defender trips him at the 20, but Alston bounces to his feet at once, letting loose a howl.
But before the sound ebbs, players have spotted the yellow flag way back at the other end of the field, near where Alston caught the punt. An illegal block. On Edmondson. The play is nullified. Jones winces, tearing off his red hat.
Moments later, Edmondson is the beneficiary of a similar call against City. A long touchdown pass to Knights star Dominick Roseborough is called back. But Edmondson can't get rolling against City's stout defense. Roseborough, who also plays linebacker, is proving too much for Edmondson's blockers. He keeps stuffing Tariq's runs for little or no gain.