Football Top 5: A look at No. 1 McDonogh

September 03, 2014|By Katherine Dunn | The Baltimore Sun

By now there's not a lot of surprise left in revealing the No. 1 team in The Baltimore Sun's preseason high school football Top 10.

Defending Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association A Conference champion McDonogh, which went 11-0 last season, holds onto the top spot after finishing last season as No. 1.

Thursday, The Sun will present the entire Top 15 poll as well as players to watch and a look at the two Baltimore-area teams that made it to the state finals last season -- Class 3A champ Franklin and Class 1A runner up Douglass.

1. McDonogh

Coach: Dom Damico

Last season: 11-0, ranked No. 1

Key Players: LB Wyatt Cook, Sr; OL Ellis McKennie, Sr.; DB Eric Burrell, Jr., LB Connor Young, Sr.; WR-DB Kareem Montgomery, Sr; QB Jansen Durham, Sr.; RB Justin Hawkins, Sr.; RB Nigel Scott, Jr., RB Mylique McGriff, Soph.

Next game: St. Joseph Regional (N.J.) at home Friday at 7 p.m.

Outlook: Returning 14 players from the team that clobbered Gilman, 37-6, to seal its first outright A Conference championship makes McDonogh the team to beat this season.

Last fall, the Eagles won their first A Conference title in seven years. Two years ago, they won just one regular season conference game, though they rebounded to beat Loyola in the A Conference semifinals before falling to Gilman in the title game.

In their season opener Saturday in Richmond, Va., the Eagles beat Benedictine, 37-14, for an area-best 12th-straight win.

Leading the way this fall is the defense, for which eight players return after allowing just 85 points last season -- that's just 7.73 per game. No team scored more than two touchdowns on the Eagles in 2013.

All-Metro Coach of the Year Damico returns a load of talent, including Defensive Player of the Year Cook, who has committed to Purdue.

Cook and Young made it almost impossible for opponents to run up the middle on the Eagles last season and they will surely create more bottlenecks this fall.

The Eagles also return veterans free safety Burrell and cornerback Montgomery. Burrell, who has started every game of his career, is rated the No. 1 player from the Baltimore area in the Class of 2016 in ESPN's Junior 300 and the No. 5 junior safety nationwide.

The defensive line should also be strong with Alton Lacks, Josh Richardson and Bart Kreiner coming back.

On offense, the Eagles return Durham and three strong running backs in Hawkins, Scott and McGriff, a transfer from Calvert Hall.

The offensive line is the area that has the least experience, but the Eagles have one of the area's best in McKennie, who has committed to Maryland. Gavin Clark and Jordan McNair will help fill a line that graduated three players.

The biggest difference for the Eagles this season is their schedule. Four of the non-league opponents from last year dropped them, so Damico had to find other options.

Haverford and Penn Charter from Pennsylvania, whom the Eagles beat by a combined 77-0, and Georgetown Prep, which the Eagles beat 42-10, all dropped McDonogh from their schedule.

"None of those teams wanted to play us anymore," Damico said. "I guess when you beat Gilman by 30, you scare some people."

Bishop O'Connell, which fell 28-14, also pulled out but because of a league scheduling conflict. Only Benedictine College Prep from Richmond, Va., scheduled the Eagles again this season.

As a result, Damico beefed up the schedule by adding LaSalle (Pa.), Elder (Ohio) and St. Joseph Regional -- all of which are ranked in the top seven in their states by MaxPreps.

"We had to make a decision knowing that we had one of the best teams in the the school's history last year and one of the best teams in the country last year and most of those kids are back," Damico said. "To be fair to our kids -- in probably eight or nine of the games (last season) my starters only played that first half, so Wyatt's getting taken out and taking his pads off because we're up by 40 points.

"Now that was a rare year, but Jansen reminds me he threw for 25 touchdowns and he only played half the game, so obviously with these teams we're going to be playing, these guys won't be taking their pads off at halftime. We'll get four full games that get us ready for the A Conference."

Once again, the season could come down to the finale when the Eagles take on No. 2 Gilman for the 99th time. In the meantime, with the stronger schedule and the usual strength in the A Conference, Damico doesn't expect an easy game all season.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

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