Douglass football rises on wave of academic reform

Ducks won in regonal playoffs for first time ever this month

November 28, 2013|By Katherine Dunn, The Baltimore Sun

Da'Quan Alexander has been at Douglass High School only a few months, but everybody knows who he is.

The senior running back scored the game-winning touchdown in double overtime Saturday that gave the Ducks a 20-14 win over Edmondson that secured the first regional football championship in school history.

Alexander and his teammates draw a lot of attention in the hallways of the West Baltimore school, where orange and blue fever surges as the 12-0 Ducks continue their run toward what they hope will be a state championship on Dec. 7 at M&T Bank Stadium.

Students have reason to be excited. Two years ago, the Ducks were 3-7. This year, they won first-ever regional football playoff game. No. 14 Douglass plays Cambridge-South Dorchester in the Class 1A state semifinals at Poly on Saturday at 1 p.m.

"I never experienced anything like this, the school spirit," Alexander said. "Football is helping school spirit, because it gives us a name. It's getting our school out there now and we're having fun. It's all about fun."

Every day when classes change, Douglass athletic director Tina Queen sees students eagerly stopping football players in the hall to congratulate them, or just to chat.

"The kids walk around with their chests pumped out a little bit more," Queen said. "It's good for them to be proud. They're really proud of where they go to school and I think that's something that we've been missing for so long. They're proud to be a Douglass Duck."

Douglass students are spreading the word any way they can.

"We have a lot of fans on Twitter," said Davon Monette, who has seen time at multiple positions for the Ducks.

The success of the football team is part of a resurgence at the school. Queen, football coach Elwood Townsend and Bob Wade, coordinator of athletics for the Baltimore City Public Schools, point to principal Antonio Hurt as the catalyst.

Hurt, in his third year at Douglass, has made it clear that he has one priority, and it's not football.

"He said for us to turn the school around we have to focus on the academics," Queen said. "When you push the academics, everything is going to follow, so it's almost like that big lineman and you're the running back. The academics is the big lineman and we're the running back that's pushing behind the lineman."

This fall, the Douglass football team has a full-time academic coach, Michelle Harper, to keep them on a steady track toward graduation and, for many players, their goal of playing college football.

Hurt, who describes himself as "pro athletics from an anti-athletics stance," said he was proud to be a Duck on Saturday not because they won but because of how they won.

"Three games I remember us losing last year, I could almost tell you the play at which we lost the whole game, and it wasn't that one play caused us to lose the game, it was that the team fell apart on that one play…," Hurt said. "I saw a different group of kids [last Saturday] who could think beyond adversity, who could think beyond one messed-up play … I could see, in terms of growth, we're building kids with brains now that can ... rally each other back together. If we had been at the same place last year, we would have lost a lot sooner."

Last season, Douglass fell to Edmondson twice, including 14-10 in the regional final, and the Red Storm battled back to tie Saturday's Class 1A South final at 14-14 on a fourth-quarter safety. What it meant to pull through showed in the Duck's reaction to the victory.

"People was crying in the locker room. Tears of joy. We came to play and we won," linebacker Donyae Moody said. "We had a couple instances [during the regular season] where in the last couple seconds, we achieved what we needed to. That's why when we get in a dogfight, we have the heart for it."

That heart has been a huge part of a Ducks turnaround. Fifth-year coach Townsend, last season's All-Metro Coach of the Year, kept the team on the rise this season despite graduating half the players from a 7-4 team that lost to a state champion and two state semifinalists by a total of 16 points.

The success of the team, which played on its own artificial turf field for the first time this fall, is keeping more football players in West Baltimore instead of losing them to other city schools traditionally stronger in the sport, Townsend said. They're willing to hit the books and adhere to Townsend's strict discipline for the rewards on and off the field.

This weekend, they will be thinking primarily of the potential on-the-field rewards.

"I tell them we make history each week that we go out here," Townsend said. "We're still undefeated. Now we're in the state semifinal. We're regional champs for the first time. Douglass has never been close to being here. The guys came out and they really bought into what we're doing here and it's an amazing thing."

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