Van Deusen, River Hill take `right way' back to semis

ON HIGH SCHOOLS

November 30, 2007|By MILTON KENT

The route to the second-floor club level area of M&T Bank Stadium, where the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association holds its press luncheon for the 16 coaches in the state football semifinals each year, is a familiar one to River Hill's Brian Van Deusen; he has made the trip the past two years.

But there's more than a little deja vu at play for Van Deusen, who, for a second straight year, brings an unbeaten Hawks team that is ranked No. 1 in the area to the semifinals with a roster and a coaching staff that looks a lot like the one that reached the Class 3A championship game last year.

Of course, there are enough differences between this year and last to spice things up - namely that River Hill has moved down a class to 2A - but the desired result is the same.

"It's been a great ride, and we're hoping to finish it off the right way and get that first state championship," Van Deusen said.

Just as they did last year, the Hawks, who host Elkton tonight, have rolled through their Howard County schedule to the top of the polls, with a dynamic rushing attack led by junior Michael Campanaro and senior Zach Martin, who have combined to run for more than 2,800 of the team's 4,200 yards this season.

The differences this year are that Campanaro and Martin, who go outside and inside, have a third rushing cohort, junior Malek Redd, for counters and outside rushes. Meanwhile, Luke Hostetler, the cousin of last year's quarterback, Daniel Hostetler, has completed 26 of 51 attempts this season, with 13 completions for touchdowns.

"I think the reason we've been so successful is you can't key on one person," Van Deusen said. "But the extra part is since we've been able to run the ball for about 400 yards a game, the play action opens up. A lot of teams put nine guys in there tight to the line, so that's where we do our play action. Luke Hostetler has made some great decisions. He finds the open guy and he's got 13 touchdown passes, and we've only thrown the ball about 50 times, so that's a pretty good percentage there."

Defensively, River Hill has been close to perfect, allowing only 14 points for the season, while shutting out all but two of its opponents.

"Certainly, we didn't think we'd have 10 shutouts, but we got off to a good start," Van Deusen said. "We shut out the first four teams, and we just kind of took pride in not allowing anybody in the end zone. We just kind of rolled from there."

As they are on offense, Martin, a linebacker, and Campanaro and Redd, the cornerbacks, are the keys to River Hill's defense. Because Redd and Campanaro can play man-to-man defense, Van Deusen said the Hawks are able to blitz more, taking advantage of their team speed.

It was a lack of speed, as well as some uncharacteristic turnovers, that hurt River Hill in last year's championship game against Friendly of Prince George's County. That loss served as the jumping-off point for this year, Van Deusen said, as the Hawks hit the weight room and sharpened their offseason conditioning.

"Ever since we started on August 15, it's just been do what we need to do: prepare, [play] one game at a time, not looking ahead," said Van Deusen, who at 33 looks young enough to be the big brother of some of his players. "If we do that, we'll get back to the point and hopefully finish off the season the right way."

You've no doubt noticed that the phrase "the right way" keeps creeping into Van Deusen's speech. He is, after all, a coach's son, and his father, Don, who preceded him as River Hill's coach, has been at his side over the eight years he has been in charge, as have a core of assistants, including Rick Lloyd, Lance Evans and Tom Gruneberg.

Together, they have forged a program that has won 73 games since Brian Van Deusen took over. Two more wins will take him and River Hill to a place that would be new, but quite familiar.

Note -- In a Nov. 16 column, I misidentified the football coach at Kenwood. His name is Anthony Ruocco, and the football coach at Aberdeen spells his name John Siemsen. I apologize to all who were affected.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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