The 2019 football season will have a few new looks. Public schools in the area will play nine regular-season games instead of 10, and they'll have to get through an extra round in the playoffs -- five overall -- to win a state championship. Plus, St. Frances Academy again will not play in the MIAA A Conference. The Panthers, expected to be one of the country's top teams, will travel around the country and play a tough schedule. Here's a quick look at what to watch this season.
TEAM TO WATCH: St. Frances
This is the season St. Frances really makes the transition to more of a national team. Last year, the program had to put a national schedule together in short order and finished 10-0 and as USA Today's No. 4 team in the country.
The Panthers were more than dominant last season, outscoring opponents, 477-32, and they come into this season riding a 23-game winning streak. But St. Frances is not a local MIAA team anymore. The Panthers will compete around the country: they'll be playing in Florida, California, New Jersey and Richmond, Va. St. Frances will open the season with a road game at Miami Central Aug. 24 at noon, a contest that can be seen on ESPN.
But this season will provide many hurdles for co-head coach Henry Russell's team to clear. MaxPreps ranked St. Frances No. 3 in the country during the preseason, with Mater Dei, the longtime California powerhouse, in the top spot. The two schools will meet Sept. 14 in California in a game that should draw a lot of attention. Russell knows how hard this season is going to be, but he's fine with that.
"This is going to be a lot tougher schedule this year," Russell said. "There's great tests. We are super excited about it. It will be a great experience for them."
Sophomore quarterback John Griffith should help lead the offense, along with senior running back Blake Corum, committed to Michigan.
TEAM TO WATCH: Franklin
Now entering his 18th season as Franklin's head coach, Anthony Burgos is looking for a fourth state title since 2013. The Indians beat Linganore in last year's Class 3A state championship, 17-14, on a 29-yard field goal by Simon Spath as time expired.
Franklin had a tough run to that title. The Indians needed to win three of their four playoff games on the road, including the final at Navy Marine-Corps Stadium. Franklin won at Milford Mill and Dundalk before beating Huntingtown at home in the semifinals.
Burgos said his team will have about six starters back on each side of the ball. Quarterback Vernon Brown returns for his senior season, while running back Von Reames should get a bigger role this season as a junior with plenty of linemen coming back.
The defense sparked the Indians' playoff run last season. The unit repeatedly stopped Milford Mill's offense late in a 15-12 playoff win and did the same with Linganore throughout the title game. Senior cornerback Xavier Cokley, committed to James Madison, is going to be a factor. Plus, longtime McDonogh head coach Dom Damico has joined the staff as defensive coordinator.
"Our whole offensive line is returning, which is a big plus for us," Burgos said. "Our secondary will probably be one of the top secondaries in the state. This will be a very interesting year."
PLAYER TO WATCH: Chris Braswell, defensive end, senior, St. Frances
Braswell already has committed to powerhouse Alabama and is coming off of a strong junior season. The 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior posted some impressive numbers for a defensive end in 2018. He had 12 sacks (plus 11 tackles for loss), forced three fumbles and returned a fumble for a touchdown.
He'll likely get bigger in college and could very well be moved to outside linebacker, where he'd focus heavily on rushing the passer. Braswell is going to be tough to block again this year, but with the Panthers' difficult schedule, he is going to get a few tests himself. The senior already was picked as a member of USA Today's All-USA Preseason Football Team, so expect him to make some noise in 2019.
COACH TO WATCH: Reggie White, Milford Mill
Now starting his 17th year as the head coach of Milford Mill, White has seen just about everything. He won a state title at Milford Mill as a player (1987) and has won county and regional titles as a coach. Plus, White's team made it to the state finals in 2017 before suffering a painful one-point loss to Linganore in the Class 3A championship game.
Now, he wants the final piece to the puzzle as a coach -- another state title. White's team went 9-2 last year, suffering a 15-12 loss to eventual state champion Franklin in the first round of the playoffs. But the Millers return about six starters on each side of the ball. Junior quarterback Rishon Holmes could be ready to break out, and there's solid depth at linebacker, running back and wide receiver.
"I am looking forward to it," White said. "They've had a taste. They have won the region and [Baltimore] County titles. I want that last one."
GAME TO WATCH: Dundalk at Franklin, Sept. 20
This is a rematch of the Class 3A state quarterfinal, which Franklin won easily, 42-7, at Dundalk. But Dundalk is coming off a very good season (10-2) that ended with the loss to the Indians. The Owls beat Franklin in the 2015 playoffs, ending the Indians' run at a third straight state title. This should be an interesting early-season tilt.
GAME TO WATCH: Mount Saint Joseph at Calvert Hall, Oct. 11
Calvert Hall finished 12-1 in 2018. The Cardinals' only loss came to -- you guessed it, Mount Saint Joseph, which ended up at 10-2. So, it's pretty certain that Calvert Hall might be looking for a bit of revenge when these rivals meet. Both teams have plenty of talented players back and should battle for the MIAA A Conference title, and this could be an entertaining game.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of St. Frances Academy
Issue 256: August 2019
Originally published Aug. 15, 2019