Commentary

It's a familiar story in Baltimore County

Updated: August 13, 2009, 1:18 PM ET
By Sheldon Shealer | ESPNRISE.com

With 24 public high schools, Baltimore County is the second largest in Maryland. Yet, when it comes to football, it usually boils down to three schools: Eastern Tech, Hereford and Perry Hall.

Don't expect much different this fall.

Players to Watch

Willie Williams could emrge as the top running back in the county.

    OFFENSE

  • Navassa Brown, Franklin, WR
  • Tyrek Cheeseboro, Milford Mill, WR
  • Devonte Farrell, Perry Hall, QB
  • Devohn Gilmore, Pikesville, WR
  • Tavon Henley, Dundalk, RB
  • Datwan Melvin, Woodlawn, QB
  • Jake McNew, Eastern Tech, TE
  • Telvin Peterson, Milford Mill, OL
  • Mike Pitz, Herford, OL
  • Willie Williams, Hereford, RB
  • DEFENSE

  • Mike Aiello, Hereford, LB
  • James Brittingham, Kenwood, DE
  • Zach Burkhardt, Eastern Tech, DB
  • Vince DePaola, Hereford, DB
  • Emmanuel Gbor, Eastern Tech, DE
  • Chuky Iweh, Eastern Tech, LB
  • Davon Johnson, Woodlawn, DE
  • Ryan Orem, Franklin, DE
  • Elijah Troxell, Perry Hall, DB
  • Tyler Weedon, Catonsville, LB
  • RELATED

    Team Players To Watch
    By The Numbers
    Maryland Preview
Perry Hall, coming off five straight Class 4A North Region runner-up finishes, and Hereford, following back-to-back 3A state tournament appearances, project as the frontrunners in the Baltimore County Class 4A-3A League. Eastern Tech, the Class 2A state runner-up the past two years, is favored in the county Class 3A-2A League.

4A-3A League

Dulaney is coming off an 0-10 season, and things are not looking much better. New coach Jeff Mann said the team was not permitted any summer workouts and he will have little idea about the players until practice starts Aug. 15.

Just because Pittsburgh signee Carl Fleming graduated, that does not mean Franklin will be quick to fall from playoff contention in 3A North. Rising junior standout Navassa Brown returns as a receiver and defensive back. He is already drawing Division I recruiting interest. Defensive end Ryan Orem also is getting I-AA looks following an all-conference junior season. Zach Silverberg projects as the running back that will inherit the carries from Fleming. Coach Anthony Burgos said although the team graduated two-year starters at the quarterback and running back positions, there is plenty of experience to keep Franklin in the league title chase.

Hereford has averaged more than 10 wins a season during Steve Turnbaugh's 14-year tenure as head coach at the school, and with eight returning offensive starters the Bulls figure to be right back in the 3A state-title chase. Hereford is the two-time defending Class 3A North Region champion. Dave Wood returns at quarterback along with most of the offensive line, led by Mike Pitz, Taylor Gload, Harry Shriver and Chris Nash. Division I prospects Willie Williams and Vince DePaola give Hereford a strong one-two punch in the backfield of its wing-T offense. Linebackers Mike Aiello and Brent Kluge return to anchor the 5-2 defense.

Kenwood has been on the verge of a breakthrough season, and with 13 returning starters this could be the year. Quarterback/defensive end James Brittingham, who is being recruited by I-A and I-AA programs, is one of six offensive returning starters. The team's strength appears to be on defense with linebacker Cody Moran, who had 59 tackles in 2008, and defensive back Sean Matthews, who had four interceptions. Kenwood also returns the county's top punter prospect in Kyle Jaski.

Milford Mill could be this year's surprise team. Despite the graduation of all-county quarterback Kevin Fulton, the Indians have plenty of offensive weapons, led by Maryland commit Tyrek Cheeseboro at receiver. Cheeseboro also plays cornerback on what coach Reggie White said will be a solid defensive unit this fall.

Parkville struggled through a 1-9 season last year and matters got worse in the offseason when the program's top player transferred to Dunbar. Marvin and Micah White are projected to be two-way starters this year for the Knights.

Perry Hall coach Keith Robinson summed up the Gators this way: "We're not as talented in the skill positions but we are much stronger on the line and the junior varsity was real good." Perry Hall graduated Consensus All-State tight end Dave Stinebaugh, who signed with Maryland. However, the program has plenty of firepower with quarterback Devonte Farrell returning. Ben Fowler, Eric Moniodos and Andrew Brekeridge highlight the offensive linemen. Perry Hall upgraded its schedule by adding 1A state semifinalist Joppatowne and 3A playoff qualifier Tuscarora.

Mark Agent's wild ride as a football coach in Baltimore County has taken a turn for the best and Woodlawn is benefiting. Agent was the coach at Owings Mills two years ago and went 0-10. He took a five-month leave from the school system, and when he returned he was offered the job at historically strong Woodlawn, which he parlayed into a playoff appearance last fall. "They love football, they're really dedicated and hard-nosed," Agent said of the players. Agent has reason to be excited this season. The team returns standout defensive end Davon Johnson, who is receiving college interest, and 6-foot-4, 200-pound quarterback Datwan Melvin. League coaches voted Woodlawn among the top three this season in the conference.

3A-2A League

Catonsville could be a team on the move this fall, with one of the county's top players in linebacker Tyler Weedon and a rising junior class that went 8-1 on the junior varsity level last fall. The Comets will remain a power I team with Dwight Weingarten running the show at quarterback. The new league structure also plays into Catonsville's favor by removing Perry Hall, Hereford and Woodlawn from the regular-season schedule.

Chesapeake-BC moves to Class 2A North, which will prove quite a step up from 1A North. However, the Bayhawks might have the horses to be competitive. Linebacker Nestor Navalo was an all-county player last year and Thomas Hunter projects as a standout running back.

Two years in a row, Eastern Tech's undefeated seasons have ended with Class 2A state final losses to River Hill. Now that River Hill has moved to Class 3A, the door might be open for Eastern Tech to make a run at being the county's first 2A champion since the Hereford dynasty of 2001-2002. Although Eastern Tech graduated five first-team all-county performers, coach Marc Mesaros has plenty of talented players in the program. The offense will center around fullback Emmanuel Gbor, who rushed for 900 yards last year, all-county tight end Jake McNew and quarterback Zach Burkhardt. Eastern Tech's strength appears to be its defense with Gbor and McNew at the end positions, returning all-county linebacker Chuky Iweh and two-way linemen Don Guido, Dan McManus and Jay Dean. McManus, only a junior, had 12 tackles as a sophomore in last year's state final.

Overlea has a quarterback-receiver combo in Leon Patterson and DeAndre Nesmith returning for a second season. Overlea went 5-5 last year in Chris Fallon's first year as head coach. Fallon spent a year as a Johns Hopkins assistant between his stints as Overlea assistant and more recently head coach.

Patapsco is one of two Baltimore County schools, joining Lansdowne, that has never qualified for postseason play. The team has become more competitive in John Spence's tenure as head coach.

Randallstown narrowly missed the Class 2A playoff last year, making it four years in a row that this traditional Baltimore County playoff contender has missed out on postseason play. The Rams figure to be among the top teams in the 3A/2A League, battling with Eastern Tech and Catonsville. Montrell Revels returns at quarterback with Tavia Gambrill back as the primary receiver. The team's top returning lineman is 6-0, 325-pound Larry Lawrence. Randallstown opens with Dunbar, followed by Woodlawn and Milford Mill. "We'll find out how good we are -- if we're good at all -- in the first month," coach Albert Howard said.

Towson has a new coach in Scott Mathena, a former Hereford assistant. Mathena will turn to senior quarterback Luke Smith to lead the offense. Linebacker Travis Beach and defensive ends Yannick Virgil and Dave Parker give Towson a nucleus on which to build. The Generals went 2-8 last season.

2A-1A League

Since the early 2000s, Dundalk has struggled. The program has gone through three coaches since its last winning season, suffered through an 0-10 year and has been hurt by academic ineligibility throughout that span. Perhaps Dundalk's fortunes might be changing this year. The team welcomes standout running back Tavon Henley, who rushed for 1,000 yards as a sophomore at Joppatowne. Henley returns to Dundalk this fall. Henley will get to run behind Courvesi Colvin, a 6-2, 315-pound senior lineman.

A move to the 2A-1A League should help Lansdowne become more competitive. The team is coming off a three-win season, which matches its best showing since a 6-4 season in 2001. The team's top projected players are receiver Martieze Brown and running back Mathieu Mears.

Loch Raven is coming off a 4-6 season and returns hulking lineman Jake McManus, at 6-4, 305 pounds. A return to Class 1A could help the Raiders' bid to make the playoffs for the first time since 2005.

New Town graduated 19 seniors from last year's playoff squad, yet remains a favorite in the Class 1A League. The Titans fielded a strong group of athletes at this summer's passing events led by quarterback Dione Roche, receivers Antoine Geter and James Williamson. The team has good size on the lines with Tyler Charles (6-3, 250) and Jamar Sheppard (6-0, 235). Maurice Salmond, an All-Baltimore County selection last year, returns at linebacker, one of the team's three returning defensive starters.

It's not going to get any easier to start the year for Owings Mills, but there's hope this is finally the end "The Streak" ends. Owings Mills, under new coach Steve Lurz, the program's fourth coach in seven years, is riding a state-record 50-game losing streak • a string of five straight 0-10 seasons. The Eagles open with Boonsboro and Joppatowne, a pair of 1A playoff teams last fall. Owings Mills' top returner is Keith Randall, who received all-county honors as a punter last season. Randall projects as the starting quarterback.

With 11 returning starters, Pikesville should be a factor not only in the 1A League but also the Class 1A North Region playoffs. Senior Devohn Gilmore was a coaches all-county selection last year and provided to be a top combine tester this past spring. The Panthers also return quarterback Jeremy Downing and two-way lineman Patrick Murdock, both received all-conference honors last season.

Sparrows Point has been a 1A playoff contender under Eric Webber, who stepped down following the 2008 season. Glen Imirie is the Pointers' new coach after serving as junior varsity head coach for seven seasons. Imirie said Sparrows Point will continue to run the wing-T offense. This year's offensive leader is quarterback Richard Stankeiwicz, who also will play linebacker. The team's top college prospect is two-way lineman Tom Anderson.

For the past six years, Western Tech has been a consistent .500 program. Although the team returns only seven starters, this could be the year the Wolverines make a push for the 1A North playoffs. Western will have good size on the line for a 1A program with four starters at more than 215 pounds, and it brings back standout athlete Khari Lee at quarterback and linebacker.

Sheldon Shealer has covered high school football in Maryland for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com .