In the Interstate Athletic Conference and the Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference, there are only three Maryland schools -- Bullis, Landon and St. James -- yet two of those programs have become perennial title chasers.
Landon is the defending IAC champion.
St. James, only a few years removed from the days when the football program was about to be abolished, placed second in the MAC in 2008.
In 2009, both figure to be title contenders again.
Landon is favored to repeat as IAC champion behind 11 returning starters, including all-league quarterback Sam McDonough and defensive lineman David Amaro. The Bears went 9-1 last season and earned a No. 23 final state poll ranking.
In addition to returning every skill-position starter except one, Landon returns running back Joe Paoletta, who was projected as the team's top rusher last season until sustaining a season-ending injury in the second week of play. DeLonte Wellington, a running back, will factor into the Bears' offensive plans.
Landon's defense looks strong with Amaro, Max Lehrman (defensive end), Kiel Wiegmann (defensive back) and Wellington (outside linebacker).
Landon was hit the hardest by graduation on the offensive line, losing five starters. Coach Rob Bordley will turn to senior Ben Spiritos and junior Alex Selowsky to anchor the O-line.
St. James was second to Flint Hill (Va.) in the MAC during Chris Milmoe's first season as Saints head coach. St. James was hit hard by graduation, losing quarterback Mike Russ and a stable of quality receivers. Milmoe said he will turn to running back Dylan Zimmerman to lead the offense this season.The strength of this year's team will be the line play of Joe Perri (6-3, 230) and Mo Townes (6-3, 250).
Meanwhile, Bullis is hoping to return to a more competitive position after winning a total of six games over the past three years. Sean Murphy will begin his second season as head coach. Aaron Brady, currently an assistant at Landon, was Bullis' head coach in 2006 and 2007. He stepped down, and the school named Jim Bernhardt as head coach in the spring of 2008, only to have him resign two months later, without coaching a game. Murphy came into the situation late, and the Bulldogs posted a 2-8 record.
St. Albans (D.C.) figures to be Landon's toughest challenger in the IAC. In the MAC, Flint Hill graduated seven all-league players, leading to a more wide-open race between Flint Hill, St. James, Maret (D.C.), Sidwell Friends (D.C.) and Potomac School (Va.).
Sheldon Shealer has covered high school football in Maryland for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com .