Poets coach Lawrence Smith gets a chilly Gatorade bath after…
Friday night lights will turn on at high school football fields all over the Baltimore area this week as public school teams play their first games. A few private schools already have opened their seasons, but a full slate of games will kick off Friday night, so it’s time to see which teams are projected to be the area’s best.
From today through the rest of the week, we’ll count down to No. 1 with a daily roll out of The Baltimore Sun’s Top 5 preseason teams. The entire Top 15 poll, along with a look at the top players to watch, will be published Friday in The Baltimore Sun and on baltimoresun.com
Today we start with a look at our No. 5 team, two-time defending Class 1A state champion Dunbar.
Coach: Lawrence Smith
Last season: 12-2, No. 6.
Postseason: Class 1A state champion.
Key players: Marvin Gross Jr., Sr., DL-TE, senior; DL-OL Malik Jones, Sr.; OL Nicholas Bonaparte, Sr.; OL-DL Dariz Hill, Sr.; QB William Crest, Jr.; RB-DB Paki Brown, Sr.; RB-LB Jaquan Holt, Sr.; RB-LB Coleman Blackston, Jr.
Outlook: The Poets have one goal in mind when they open each football season – win the state championship. With eight titles since 1994 and six of the past eight in Class 1A, these Poets aim to become only the second group in school history to win three in a row after the Tavon Austin-led edition won in 2006, 2007 and 2008.
“Tavon’s class won three straight and every class we have left [on the current roster] has won two or three championships,” Smith said. “Every team is gunning to outdo the other. Everyone wants four.”
Last season, the Poets had to forfeit their Baltimore City league opener and then lost only to Poly, 18-14. They rolled through the playoffs, allowing just six points in each of their first three games. In the state final, they trailed Perryville, 11-8, before a shutout second half finished off a 32-11 Dunbar victory.
The Poets graduated several significant contributors, but with 15 starters back and an infusion of talent from an undefeated junior varsity, they are the team to beat in Baltimore City as well as the favorites to repeat as Class 1A champs.
For Smith, in his sixth season, it all starts with the offensive line where three starters return: Jones, Bonaparte and Hill.
“You can go to any school and find guys who can run and catch the ball,” Smith said, “but if you return three starting linemen, you’re ahead of the game. We’re better early on depending on how many linemen we return.”
Dunbar also returns senior running backs Paki Brown and Jaquan Holt as well as junior Coleman Blackston, all of whom had a significant number of carries last season as the Poets regularly used five or more ball carriers. William Crest, who has early offers from programs such as Ohio State and West Virginia, should emerge as a force this season after starting as a sophomore.
Two keys to the Poets' success will be cutting down on the turnovers that have plagued them the past few years, as well as continuing the stellar play of the linebackers and defensive backs, the areas with the most new starters.
The Poets will find out pretty early just how good they are, because they face Calvert Hall on Friday night as part of the I-95 Kickoff Classic at Towson University’s Johnny Unitas Stadium. It will be the first meeting between the two since 1995, when Dunbar won 24-8.