DuVall's last hurrah

Wilde Lake's coach of 36 years has a chance to go out on top in 3A state title game


December 04, 2008|By Patrick Gutierrez | Patrick Gutierrez,patrick.gutierrez@baltsun.com

As Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall guided his players through practice for the final time in his career yesterday, the 61-year-old with the jovial attitude and cherubic face went about his business as if it were any other day.

Preparing his team for tonight's Class 3A state championship against Westlake at M&T Bank Stadium, DuVall was the picture of focus. Deep down, however, he was very aware of the occasion and the fact that the end of what has been a magical 36-year ride is near.

"I try not to think about it," DuVall said before practice. "I'm trying to keep it at arm's length."

Having decided at the beginning of the year to walk away after the season, DuVall seemed at peace with his choice, hinting he might not be done coaching for good.

"It's time," he said. "My days of coaching high school football are over."

When DuVall decided this would be his last year, he never intended the news to get out so soon, he said, nor did he expect the attention it would draw.

After casually mentioning his decision to a friend, he went back to work preparing for the coming season. Within days, word had spread and, like it or not, DuVall's unofficial farewell tour was under way.

And what a tour it has been: a 12-1 record culminating in a chance to win his sixth state championship and first since 1997. But regardless of tonight's outcome, DuVall's legacy is secure.

His record speaks for itself: 308 career wins, 20 Howard County titles, five state championships. All of which earned him an induction into the Maryland High School Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2007.

Just as impressive, however, is the way his former players revere him. After news of his impending retirement spread, several formed a Wilde Lake alumni group. They began showing up on the sideline when DuVall was preparing to earn his 300th career win and haven't stopped coming since.

"Coach DuVall was pretty important to me growing up," said Patrick Brown, who played on the 1990 and 1991 state champion teams and planned to fly in from Los Angeles to attend the game. "My parents were divorced, so he was like a second dad to me at times. I feel a debt of gratitude to him and want to be there for his last game."

DuVall's Wilde Lake career almost didn't happen. The story of how he came into his job has often been told: In 1971, as a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland, DuVall was traveling abroad when the junior varsity head coaching position at Wilde Lake opened up. His mentor and former coach, Frank Rhodes, thought DuVall would be a great fit for the job. He forged DuVall's signature on the contract without his knowledge in order to meet the school's application deadline.

Upon returning from Europe, DuVall listened as Rhodes appealed to him to take the job.

"He'd done me a lot of favors when I was growing up," DuVall recalled. "He said, 'Doug, you owe me.' "

DuVall agreed to do it for two years. That was in 1972.

Not long after, under DuVall's direction, Wilde Lake became a perennial contender. Each of his teams carried the same traits: discipline, a tremendous work ethic and a genuine love for one another. The talent might have fluctuated, but those elements did not.

"He's the type of coach where one day he could be your best friend and the next day he could be your worst enemy," said Keith Gonsuland, another member of the 1990 and 1991 teams. "It was all done, obviously, to make you a better player, but more importantly, a better person."

That is why so many former players will be on hand at tonight's game. Beyond all the victories and championships, they are living, breathing examples of DuVall's success as a coach.

tonight's game

Westlake vs. No. 5 Wilde Lake

WHAT: Class 3A state championship

WHEN: 7 p.m.

WHERE: M&T Bank Stadium

OUTLOOK : This is an emotion-filled game for the Wildecats of Wilde Lake (12-1), who will be playing their last game for coach Doug DuVall. Over the years, he has won five state championships - the last in 1997, the year after Westlake's only appearance in a championship game. The Wolverines (11-2) are looking for their first title. They made it to this game with a 24-21 upset of previously undefeated Seneca Valley, when their kicker, Nick Koster, hit a 27-yard field goal in overtime. While the Wildecats, who have advanced easily to this point, are led by QB-DB Danny March (686 yards, five TDs) and RB Jerrel Epps (1,134 yards, 18 TDs), Westlake's big weapon is Devon Smith (1,608 yards, 20 TDs). .

THE SUN'S PICK: Wilde Lake

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