Edgewood High School's football team is no longer an unknown commodity.
The Rams shocked many by making the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association 3A state playoffs in 2017, the program's first postseason appearance since 2006. Edgewood then provided one of the biggest surprises in the state playoffs when it dispatched traditional powerhouse, Franklin, 20-8, during the MPSSAA 3A North regional semifinals, giving the program its first postseason win.
Though Edgewood's season would end the following week against Milford Mill, the campaign was undoubtedly a major success. The Rams finished 8-4.
"That season has opened a lot of doors," Edgewood head coach Charles Johnson said. "We had more college coaches coming through once they realized we could play with the big boys, which has given a few of our players the chance to play at the next level. That being said, I sent out a text to our coaches recently, which basically said that this isn't 2017. Everyone knows our names now, so we need to get better."
There's a few reasons to think Edgewood will improve in 2018.
The team's coaching situation is more settled this season. Last year was Johnson's first as head coach at Edgewood. He got the job last June, which didn't give him a long offseason to gel with his players.
"We really couldn't have done as well as we did without having a great coaching staff," Johnson said. "Coming in like I was and watching practice, I felt we had a pretty good team, but that we had to keep working hard to get the job done. Our coaches did a fantastic job of preaching that."
The team will also be more settled at the quarterback position this year. Johnson named then-junior Antwan Banks the team's starting quarterback last year even though he had never played the position before.
"I was kind of unsure about it at first," Banks said. "I started getting used to it, though, and realized my athleticism and speed could help the team."
Banks, who transferred to Edgewood from Kenwood before last season, became one of the area's most explosive playmakers. He ran for 1,544 yards rushing and 20 touchdowns. The Rams averaged 325.3 yards rushing per game as a team.
Banks was able to dominate games despite not throwing the ball much. He's spent a lot of time working on that part of his game this offseason and says he feels far more comfortable in the pocket going into his senior year.
Banks' ability to read coverages could help him take the next step, according to Rams offensive coordinator Darren Hill.
"Once Antwan figured out how defenses were setting up, it opened his eyes to passing," Hill said. "This offseason, he's been working on route distributions to deliver the ball, as well as his throwing mechanics. The great thing about Antwan is his running ability, which overshadows everything, but he's also a great quarterback. The key with him this season will be knowing when to run and when not to."
Banks will also benefit from having a bigger and stronger line protecting him than he did last year. A full offseason with Johnson as head coach has meant an added focus on weight training for the Rams, which has resulted in most of Edgewood's linemen being able to bench press and deadlift at least 200 pounds, something they weren't capable of last year.
But Edgewood's expected improvement in the trenches goes beyond sheer strength.
"Some of our linemen didn't know how to use their hands and other ins and outs of the position, but we've learned a lot of that this offseason at camps," senior offensive tackle and nose guard Daviyon Johnson said. "Combine that with our size, strength and chemistry and I feel like they feel like we should make a big impact for our team this season. You can't have a good offense with a good offensive line."
If the offensive line does continue to improve, and Banks progresses, then Edgewood should be in a good position to prove last year wasn't a fluke.
"Everybody is working as hard as possible and we're doing our best to work harder than other teams. We talk about not allowing yourself to give less when you can achieve more. If you are exhausted to the max, still give it your all," Daviyon Johnson said. "Everyone on our team has this feeling that we have to win. We can't accept anything else."
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Antwan Banks