Digital Harbor in hunt for first playoff berth - and a little bit of respect

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

October 30, 2007|By MILTON KENT

You can add getting essentially bum-rushed out of Poly's Lumsden-Scott Stadium on Saturday to the list of indignities the Digital Harbor football team has endured this year.

The referee had barely declared Saturday's game over, it seems, before Rams players and coaches were being briskly, but firmly, urged off the field, on homecoming day, no less, ostensibly to make way for the Forest Park-W.E.B. DuBois game, despite the fact that no one from either school was there.

And the glow of the Rams' 46-6 pasting of Southwestern had barely begun to sink in before they were already being asked about Friday's showdown with No. 2 Dunbar.

Whatever, as the kids would say. Digital Harbor (7-1) is on a roll that just might lead to not only the first state playoff berth in the school's four-year history, but to a November home game as well.

"We keep winning games and we've built a dream," Rams coach Lonnie "Skip" Hartley said. "We're living a dream. Every high school player looks to go to the playoffs, looks to play in that important game. And Digital Harbor kids are no different."

Since losing to Poly, 23-6, in the season opener, the Rams have won seven straight, putting themselves in position to win the city's Division II race.

"The key is hard work and pride," said senior linebacker Trae Higgins, a team captain. "Since the beginning of the year, we've been trying to execute as a team. Basically, we work hard in practice every day. I come on the field and try to show good leadership, drive hard and show dedication. The whole team shows dedication."

The Rams don't do anything fancy. On offense, they run the ball efficiently. Senior James Henson has rushed for 663 yards and five touchdowns and junior Aaron Hargraves, who works out of the tailback and fullback slots, has run for 347 yards and five touchdowns.

Strong-armed quarterback Gary Brannon has thrown for 579 yards and six scores, two of them Saturday, operating behind an offensive line that averages nearly 300 pounds per man.

"The offensive line has been great this year," said Brannon, a junior who has run for four touchdowns. "Since the [loss] against Poly, they've come together and worked as a team. They've come together and held their blocks and we've come up with the W's at the end of the games."

Defensively, Digital Harbor turns loose two talented ends, junior Michael Mayo and senior Jaron Lewis, who have combined for 20 1/2 of the team's 40 sacks.

Of course, the Rams might not have been rushed out of their own place Saturday, if they, in fact, had their own place. Players at the former Southern High practice on a roughly 30-yard-long patch of land, sharing it with the junior varsity.

And come game day, the Rams have become the city's most interesting road show. Though they have been listed as the home team in four games this season, Digital Harbor has been on the road for all of its games.

Hartley said he hopes that when Swann Park, the Rams' de facto home field, reopens once concerns over arsenic levels in the soil are allayed, that a turf field similar to the one at Poly, as well as facilities for softball and baseball, could be constructed and shared among Digital Harbor, Edmondson, Walbrook and Southside Academy.

Before all that, the Rams, who have improved from 2-7 in Hartley's first season in 2004, have a little matter of business with unbeaten Dunbar, whom Hartley calls "the immortals," and Poets tailback Tavon Austin, whom Hartley calls "Superman."

"I don't know what we're going to do to contain him," said Hartley, channeling his best Lou Holtz. "In fact, we'll probably just have to go over and just see what the score is. All indications are it's going to be a game that we shouldn't even go to."

Still, with a win, Digital Harbor could seize first place in the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association's Class 1A South region ahead of Dunbar and set itself up for "home-field advantage for the first two games of the playoffs, for whatever that's worth.

For the players, a win over Dunbar could mean a trip to a place they haven't visited yet, a place called respect.

"We've been looking forward to it all year," Mayo said. "They say we haven't played anybody all year and we haven't beaten anybody all year. So we'll go up there and play hard."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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