The high school football season kicks off Aug. 24. Here are six things to watch this season.
TEAM TO WATCH: St. Frances
The Panthers clearly are the area's team to watch. St. Frances went undefeated last year and outscored opponents, 534-61. The Panthers have gone undefeated in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) A Conference the last two seasons, but their situation remains unclear. During the spring, Calvert Hall, Gilman, McDonogh, Mount Saint Joseph and Archbishop Spalding announced they wouldn't play St. Frances this fall due to what the schools called safety issues.
The MIAA announced Aug. 11 that St. Frances had been declared the MIAA A Conference champion for the 2018 season. St. Frances told The Baltimore Sun and ESPN that, as of the first week in August, it had put together a nine-game schedule. Co-head coaches Biff Poggi and Henry Russell's schedule remains in a state of flux, but they will reportedly play teams from outside the area. Last year, the Panthers played teams from New Jersey, Virginia, Utah and Ontario, Canada.
However, many questions remain before the season begins. There may be a bit of a cloud over the MIAA A Conference this season with the Panthers having been declared conference champions without playing a game. Only time will tell what the future holds for St. Frances and the MIAA.
TEAM TO WATCH: Milford Mill
The Millers finished 12-2 last year and came close to winning their first state title in 30 years. Milford Mill held a 19-0 lead against Frederick County powerhouse Linganore during the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) Class 3A state title game, but the Lancers roared back and pulled out a 28-27 victory on a late touchdown. That's the bad news.
The good news is Milford Mill brings back about seven starters on both sides of the ball, according to head coach Reggie White. Senior Desmond Shell is a key player expected to fill several roles. White lists him as an athlete when asked about his position because Shell can play seemingly everywhere: running back, kick and punt returner, slot receiver, outside linebacker, cornerback and safety. He also gained more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and scored 20 touchdowns last year. Senior Kevin Neal should anchor the defense from middle linebacker.
However, the Millers have a definite goal and some inspiration in the form of last year's championship game. White, in his 16th year as Milford Mill's coach and a member of the school's 1987 championship team, made that very clear.
"You take 14 games and it boiled down to about 2.5 minutes, and that's what kept us from wearing rings," White said. "We are extremely unsatisfied with the outcome of last year and the only way to make it change is to do something different."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ethon Williams, Broadneck, WR, senior
Williams was one of the area's top wide receivers last year. He made 66 catches for 1,223 yards and scored 17 touchdowns for Broadneck. Williams is a dynamic threat and makes defensive backs and coaches cringe because of how much trouble he can cause. He committed to Boston College last spring and should cause plenty of issues for ACC teams when he moves on to the college level. He doesn't appear to have breakaway speed, but he can go get the ball and, at the high school level, that's crucial.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Desmond Shell, Milford Mill, all-purpose, senior
Shell is also very talented -- at just about everything -- and can play on offense and defense. He totaled more than 2,000 all-purpose yards as Milford Mill made it to the Class 3A state title game last fall. Coach Reggie White said Shell can do just about anything; he's returned kicks and punts, played in the secondary and at running back and even lined up in the slot. He hasn't set any plans for college yet.
GAME TO WATCH: River Hill at Howard, Sept. 28
This will be an interesting Howard County battle between a pair of very good teams. Howard finished 10-0 during last year's regular season under head coach Ross Hannon and made it all the way to the Class 4A state semifinals. That's where the Lions drew some bad luck and ran into Prince George's County powerhouse Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School, which rolled over them, 42-7. Howard will return a big offensive threat this year in senior running back Devin Dawkins, who was one of the state's top running backs last year.
River Hill went 9-1 during the 2017 regular season and suffered a bit of a surprising loss to Glenelg during the first round of the state playoffs. River Hill beat Glenelg 20-0 during the next-to-last game of the regular season for head coach Brian Van Deusen, but Glenelg won the rematch, 14-6. Senior Wande Owens is a tough running back for Glenelg and recently committed to Yale.
COACH TO WATCH: Tim Palmer, Harford Tech
The Cobras have not exactly been a football powerhouse throughout the years. In fact, the team had never even made the state playoffs until last year, when Palmer took over. He guided Harford Tech to a stunning 12-1 record and took the Cobras all the way to the Class 2A state semifinals. Harford Tech's season ended with a 16-9 loss to Gwynn Park High School from Prince George's County.
Harford Tech's returners got loads of experience last year. Senior running back Jalen Dangerfield accomplished plenty in 2017 and can do more this year. The question is how Act II of this show will play out. Can the Cobras do it again?
Issue 246: August 2018