Two-way players vital to teams in state football finals

Franklin's Venable, Wilde Lake's Kelly among leaders who rarely leave the field

  • "I never like to come off the field," said Franklin running back and linebacker Mark Venable, center. "On offense, I just like to pound the ball every chance I get and on defense, I'm looking to stop whoever gets the ball and hit him."
"I never like to come off the field," said Franklin… ( Baltimore Sun photo by Karl…)
December 01, 2010|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

Wilde Lake's Joe Kelly never wants to leave the football field during a game, and he rarely does.

The senior plays almost every down in a quadruple role for the No. 8 Wildecats, who meet No. 6 Franklin for the state Class 3A championship Thursday night at 7 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Kelly is the quarterback, free safety, kicker and punter. Coach Michael Harrison said Kelly would return kicks, too, if Harrison would let him.

"It's football to me," Kelly said. "Anytime I get to play football, whether I'm just kicking or playing quarterback or playing defense, it's just fun."

Kelly is far from the only player in this week's state football finals who feels that way. He, Franklin's Mark Venable, Dunbar's DeonTay McManus and Havre de Grace's Michael Kelly probably play the biggest two-way roles for their teams, but quite a few of their teammates pull double duty, too.

No team has more two-way guys than Havre de Grace, which meets Dunbar in the Class 1A final Saturday at noon at M&T Bank Stadium. The Warriors have such a small roster — 28 guys at most — that many players must handle dual roles.

Those players have to be ready for anything physically and mentally because a couple of hours of running and hitting can wear down both body and mind.

"To play both ways, you have to condition your body and you have to really be a student of the game," Dunbar coach Lawrence Smith said. "You have to know what's going on on both sides of the ball because of the different [sets] we run. To know everything that's going on on both sides of the ball for four quarters, it really takes a lot."

Havre de Grace's Michael Kelly, a running back and cornerback, averages 12.5 carries and 123.5 yards a game. In last week's win over Brunswick, he ran for 289 yards and made a touchdown-saving play at the end of the first half.

"It's exhausting," Kelly said. "It's a mind thing. You've got to be mentally strong and not worry about being tired, because you're going to be tired."

The guys who play the most say they make conditioning a priority. They work out hard in the offseason and preseason, and they run a lot to maintain the stamina to carry them through a game's final minutes.

For Venable, a running back and linebacker, that meant having the endurance to play 48 minutes of hard-hitting football Friday night — he had 26 carries and 11 tackles — and still being able to plow through Huntingtown's line as time expired for the game-winning touchdown and a 15-14 Indians victory.

That can take a toll on the body despite the best preparation. Venable said he was still icing his sore muscles in school Monday, but he doesn't mind the beating. He just wants coach Anthony Burgos to keep him in the game.

"I never like to come off the field," he said. "On offense, I just like to pound the ball every chance I get and on defense, I'm looking to stop whoever gets the ball and hit him. Coach knows that the two-way guys are going to give 100 percent when we're on both sides of the ball. We're never going to stop."

With double the play comes double the pounding, so injury is always a concern. But the players don't worry about it, and the coaches try not to think about it.

"There's a risk in playing the game of football," Wilde Lake coach Mike Harrison said. "You can get hurt just as easily on either side of the ball."

Keeping the two-ways guys healthy is especially vital to a small team such as Havre de Grace's.

"We went to play Calvert Hall, and they had more people warming up for one position than we did for the whole team," Warriors coach Johnny Brooks said with a laugh.

The Warriors had 17 players dressed for that game against No. 1 Calvert Hall and its 62-man roster. The simply outmanned Warriors fell, 55-0.

Brooks relies on many two-way players, and in the playoffs, quarterback Darin Washington has even played some defense — although he's the one player Brooks tries to limit to offense because he's the guy with the arm that keeps the Warriors from having to run all the time and get even more banged up.

In practice, Brooks takes a lot of precautions with his team. He doesn't run many hitting drills. The players hit mostly bags and focus more on skills and conditioning.

"We can't afford for anyone to get hurt," he said. "Losing one person is losing two positions."

That's true to some degree for all the teams, but for most high school teams, two-way guys are an important part of the game plan and a critical part of any championship run.

"Even if you go places that have a vast number of kids — some of the big 4A high schools — they'll still have carry over where they'll have a couple [of two-way players]. It's high school football. It's a numbers game. We're not the colleges or the NFL, where you get to pick and chose and try to just specialize. All coaches are competitive by nature, and we're trying to put the best kids on the field to be successful," Harrison said.

Key two-way players in the state finals


DeonTay McManus, Jr., WR/FS

Travon Garrett, Sr., TE/LB

Epe Henriques, Sr., RB/LB

Ernest Hawkins, Jr., RB/LB

Havre de Grace

Michael Kelly, Sr., RB/DB

Dayshawn Bolling, Sr., SE/DB

Monty Werts, Sr., TE/DE

Travonn Bond, Sr., RB/DB

Jordan Stallings, Sr., FB/LB

Ryan Weismiller, Sr., OL/DL

Brenton Barnes, Jr., OL/DL


Mark Venable, Sr., RB/LB

Ian Thomas, Jr., WR/DB

Navassa Brown, Sr., RB/DB

Wilde Lake

Joe Kelly, Sr., QB/FS/K/P

E.J. Gilman, Sr., RB/LB

Tuka Hayes, Sr., OL/DL

A.J. Harris, Sr., FB/DE

Eric Handy, Soph., OL/DL

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