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2017 High School Football Preview

August 15, 2017
The high school football season kicks off Aug. 25. Here are five things to watch this season.

Team to Watch: Franklin High School

It should be another strong season for Franklin. The Indians return 13 starters from last season's team, which rode an 11-game winning streak into the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association 3A state championship game, where it lost to Damascus of Montgomery County, 14-12.

Franklin, which last won the state title in 2014, is expected to get big seasons from senior wide receiver Assanti Kearney, senior running back Sam Botchway and junior linebacker Jay Thompson.

After opening at home against Woodlawn Sept. 2, the Indians have a Sept. 8 matchup with DeMatha, which has won four straight Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships. Up next is a Sept. 15 trip to Delaware to play Smyrna, which has won two straight Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association Division I state championships.

"We wanted to be challenged early," Franklin head coach Anthony Burgos said. "With DeMatha, we felt like in order to be the best you have to try to beat the best. With Smyrna, one of my goals when I started at Franklin was to take our kids out of state and get exposure to competing against players from outside of Maryland. We're excited to take that step this season."

This year, Franklin will have the benefit of no longer having to compete with Damascus, as the Hornets, who have won two straight 3A state titles, will be competing in the 2A classification. With Damascus out of the picture, Franklin's path to the 3A title is much clearer.

Player to Watch: Eyabi Anoma, senior defensive end, St. Frances

Area football fans will want to keep an eye on Anoma's final high school season.

Last year was Anoma's first with St. Frances, and he was a relatively unknown commodity at the start of the season. That all changed after having a monstrous campaign for the undefeated Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "A" conference champions, as he finished with more than 60 tackles and 24 sacks.

Anoma has seen his stock rise with college programs. Originally seen as a raw project for the collegiate level, the 6-foot-6, 223-pound Anoma is now being viewed as a top-level prospect. He ranks fourth on ESPN.com's list of top prospects for the Class of 2018, and at one point he was ranked as high as No. 2. Anoma has received college scholarship offers from at least 20 schools, according to ESPN, including defending national champion Clemson. Anoma has also reportedly received offers from Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State and Maryland.

Assuming Anoma continues to perform at a high level during his senior year, he could end up being the most sought-after college football recruit in Baltimore history. 

Game to Watch: Broadneck at Old Mill, Oct. 6

The rivalry between these two Anne Arundel County programs has intensified the past two seasons, and it should remain at a high level in 2017.

In 2015 and 2016, Old Mill entered the state playoffs with an undefeated record, the top spot in the MPSSAA 4A East regional playoffs and realistic hopes of winning a state championship. In both seasons, Old Mill defeated Broadneck by multiple touchdowns during the regular season -- a 38-22 win in 2015 and a 34-10 win the following year.

However, the Patriots were unable to beat Broadneck in the playoffs. The Bruins have eliminated Old Mill in the past two state playoff tournaments, with both games taking place on the Patriots' home field. 

Both games were close, especially last year's first-round matchup, which Broadneck won, 20-17, in overtime. In that game, Broadneck trailed 14-0 entering the fourth quarter and fell behind 17-14 in overtime. The Bruins got their first lead on the game's final play, when then-senior wide receiver Robert Schwob caught his second touchdown pass of the game.

In 2015, Broadneck won, 7-0, to take the 4A East championship.

Considering that history, don't be surprised if Old Mill and Broadneck meet again in the playoffs.

Comeback Team to Watch: South Carroll High School

History says South Carroll will bounce back from an uncharacteristically down year in 2016.

Last year, the Cavaliers went 4-6 and missed the MPSSAA 2A state playoffs for the first time since 2008. It also marked the first time South Carroll missed the playoffs under head coach Steve Luette, as well as the only time the team didn't have a winning record in Carroll County play during his eight-year tenure.

The Cavaliers opened 2016 with a lopsided win against North Hagerstown but then dropped three straight. South Carroll was able to rally, winning three straight games against Carroll County foes Manchester Valley, Winters Mill and Francis Scott Key, but it couldn't maintain the momentum, closing out 2016 with another three-game losing streak.

This year, the Cavaliers will have to find a way to win close games. Four of South Carroll's 2016 losses were by one score or less. 

South Carroll begins the season with four non-county games, including opening at home with 2016 1A state semifinalist Edmondson-Westside. The Cavaliers finish with six straight county games, including Week 6 and Week 7 contests against Liberty and Century, respectively. Both of those teams beat South Carroll last season and are also expected to contend for playoff spots in the 2A West region.

Coach to Watch: Sean Sandora, Archbishop Curley

After spending five seasons as head coach at Dundalk, where he compiled a 40-19 record, Sandora will coach Archbishop Curley in the MIAA "B" conference this season after longtime Friars coach Sean Murphy retired. 

At Dundalk, Sandora led the Owls through their most successful period of football in the school's history. Dundalk's best season under Sandora came in 2015, when the Owls went 12-2 (a school record for wins) and reached an MPSSAA state championship game for the first time in the program's history. Dundalk lost in the 3A state final to Damascus.

"Dundalk was a phenomenal experience," Sandora said. "What I'll remember most fondly is changing the culture of the football team, which then helped with changing the culture of the whole building. Making the state championship was great, but helping kids gain the belief they can play in college and further their education was amazing."

The Friars finished 5-5 with a 3-3 conference record in 2016, which was good enough for third place. Archbishop Curley last won the conference championship in 2014.

Sandora believes the Friars should have a good blend of experience and youth in 2017. Three seniors -- tackle Stevon Brown, running back/cornerback Daekwon Hall and inside linebacker Seth Boyd -- are expected to have strong seasons and provide leadership.

The team also will be infused with younger talent, most of which comes from the JV team, which won its conference championship in 2016. A trio of juniors -- fullback/linebacker Mike Vargas, wide receiver/free safety Corey Jones-Pentz and tight end/defensive end Tyler Locklear -- is expected to make an impact this season.

Issue 236: August 2017