After a spectacular final in the Class 1A championship that resulted in Dunbar winning its third straight title last season, some people thought 2009 might be a rebuilding year for the Poets. While that does not appear to be the case anymore, the Poets are not alone in the hunt for a title chase this season.
Edmondson has the best quarterback in Baltimore this year in Jerry Lovelocke and returns a host of experienced, talented seniors to the former Class 2A champions. Baltimore Polytechnic head coach Roger Wrenn thinks this could be the best Engineers team he has ever coached and could be a power player in Class 3A this season.
Last season, two teams made a bid to become regular contenders in the playoffs, with Reginald Lewis making its first playoff appearance and W.E.B. DuBois returning to the playoffs under its second year head coach. Now the challenge will be for those teams to prove they can build upon that success.
Carver Vo-Tech struggled last season, falling to 0-10 after back-to-back 3-7 years.
City College is coming off a 6-4 season, and has Baltimore City's premiere player in Adrian Coxson (a Penn State commit). But there will be some hurdles to overcome. The Knights' star quarterback the last few seasons, Ellis Foster, amassed 3,662 passing yards, 1,112 rushing yards and 55 total touchdowns in four years as the starting quarterback. Replacing Foster will be a challenge this season, according to head coach George Petrides, but there are several candidates looking to fill the void. If none of the quarterbacks step up, Petrides said he could use Coxson at quarterback this season. The offense does return six starters, and should be able to put points on the board with Coxson, running back Deandre Harris and receiver Avery Griffin. Defensively, the Knights return five starters, but Petrides said the defensive line is a concern. The head coach, who enters his 34th season, said he is worried about the defense being able to hold opponents to fewer points than his team can score.
After five years of steady improvement, Digital Harbor fell to 4-6 in its first season in Baltimore City's Division I. This year, the Rams move up to Class 2A North where they will battle with City, Edmondson, Randallstown and Eastern Tech for a playoff spot.
Douglass-Balt. improved from 1-9 in 2007 to 3-7 last season. The Ducks will have their second new head coach in as many years, with Elwood Townsend taking over for Steve Simmons, who was head coach for a season.
It was an amazing ending to a stellar career for Dunbar's Tavon Austin. His two-point conversion run with two seconds left in the Class 1A state championship game gave the Poets a 20-19 win over Fort Hill. With more than 15 players graduating from a team that won three-straight titles, it looked like there would be another favorite for the 2009 title, but then the transfers arrived. Stepping into the quarterback role this season is Evan Pittman, who transfers in from Calvert Hall. The question mark will be replacing Austin, who holds Maryland state records for most career touchdowns (128) and rushing yards (7,993). Austin was a special player, and it might take multiple players, including Phillip Quarrie and sophomore Lavar Highsmith, to fill his role. Defensively, the Poets appear to once again be strong. Linebacker Nathan Ayers holds offers from UNLV and Toledo, and defensive lineman Devin Clark also holds an offer from UNLV. Maybe the biggest news of the offseason occurred just a few weeks ago when former Parkville linebacker, Joshua Alaeze, finalized his transfer to Dunbar. Alaeze recorded 89 tackles as a junior with Parkville last year and holds five offers, including New Mexico, Old Dominion, Towson and others. The expectations for Dunbar are another state title, and with Fort Hill returning many of the players from last season's team, it could be a rematch in the 2009 final.
Edmondson has what can be considered the most ambitious schedule of any team in Baltimore City. Red Storm head coach Dante Jones scheduled Mount St. Joseph and Loyola of the MIAA for the first two games. They will also face other city powers Dunbar, Poly and City College. Fortunately, Jones is not without talent. Leading the offense is Lovelocke, who threw for 2,496 yards and 25 touchdowns last season. Joshua Stokes-Davis returns at fullback and Tahji Cooper is expected to get some carries at running back. Defensively, Jones needs to replace Maryland commit David Mackall. Attempting to fill that role will be the versatile Boaz Payne-El, who can play linebacker or defensive end. Payne-El recorded 39 tackles last season. Jones is confident of the team's schedule, and told MDVarsity.com earlier this year that if the team ever wants to be considered among the best programs, it needs to start playing some of the best programs. If the Red Storm starts the season 0-2 with Dunbar, Poly and City remaining on the schedule, the question will be can it rebound and gain enough points to make the Class 2A North playoffs. Last year, Poly, City and Randallstown finished within three points of each other for the fourth and final spot.
Forest Park fell to the back to the pack in 2008, going 2-8 after finishing 6-4 in 2007. But last year's Foresters were young with only six returning seniors and a host of juniors. Damon Bomar takes over as head coach this season, replacing Obie M. Barnes Jr., who was head coach for only a year.
The Institute of Business and Entrepreneurship (IBE) is one of two new Baltimore city schools to open this year. IBE is taking over Walbrook's athletic schedule, and will play in Class 1A South this season.
Lake Clifton returns 14 starters from a team that finished 5-5 last season. The Lakers moved down to Class 2A this season, and will compete in the South Region. Lake Clifton will compete in Baltimore City Division II this season, and head coach James Monroe said he thinks the team has a good chance at finishing 9-1 or 8-2. The Lakers have a relatively easy schedule this season, playing teams that combined for a regular season record of 38-59.
Maritime Academy is a new school and will compete in Class 1A South. Maritime opens in the same building and will inherit the same athletic schedule as Samuel Banks. Banks finished 2-8 last season, and as of press time, it is unknown how many of Banks players will remain at Maritime. Parents had the option to leave their children at Maritime or transfer them to another Baltimore school. The Anchors head coach is to be determined.
Megenthaler finished 6-4 last season, but faces a brutal early season schedule that includes Poly (Week 2), Edmondson (Week 3) and Dunbar (Week 4).
Northwestern returns eight starters from a team that finished 9-2 last season. Head coach Eric Woodson was named the Baltimore Sun's Coach of the Year after leading the team to its first ever playoff appearance. First Team Small School All-State running back Terrance West graduated after a stellar career in which he rushed for more than 5,300 yards and 60 touchdowns. Woodson expects the offensive and defensive lines to be strong with returning seniors Irvin Rivers, Howard Rice, Ian Rogers and Eric Parker.
Patterson went from 4-6 in 2007 to 5-5 last year. Head coach Corey Johnson returns seven starters on offense, including receiver Tyrell Addison, who caught 12 touchdowns last year and 20 touchdowns over the past two seasons. Leading the offensive charge is three-year starting quarterback Aaron Overton, who threw 16 touchdowns and rushed for three more last season. On defense, the Clippers return four starters, including the teams to two tacklers from last season, Derrelle Harris and Allister Jones. Johnson said his offensive line will be strong this season with four of five starters returning.
Baltimore Polytechnic (Poly) returns 10 starters to a team that finished 6-4 and made the Class 2A North playoffs last year. This year, Poly moves up to Class 3A North where it will compete with, among others, Catonsville, Hereford, Milford Mill and Franklin for a playoff spot. Wrenn said this will be his best Poly team with 20 varsity letterman, 16 of which had extensive playing time last year. Leading the offense will be three-year quarterback Antoine Goodson. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound senior rushed for more than 1,700 yards, passed for more than 1,200 yards and accounted for 28 touchdowns. Anchoring the offensive line in Wrenn's option offense will be two-time all-city lineman Gregory Nixon. Seniors John Ward, Reno Coles and Keon Brunson will also help protect Goodson. Defensively, Dylan Acab returns at linebacker. The Engineers will face their toughest opponents towards the end of the season, playing Edmondson, Digital Harbor, Northwestern, Dunbar and City in their final five games.
Reginald Lewis made a complete turnaround in head coach Anthony Knox's second season. The Falcons went 3-7 in his first season and finished 7-4 last year, making the playoffs for the first time in school history. This year, Knox is looking to build upon his success, and returns 11 starters from last year's team. Included among the returning offensive starters is three-year starting quarterback Maurice Kosh. Also returning is all-city kicker Dwayne Williams, who will only be a sophomore. According to Knox, the team will need to replace some graduates on the offensive line and will need to gel quickly, but the team has experience and talent at the skill positions with Tavon Hargis, William Roberts, Devante Stewart and Kosh. Omari Thomas is a ball-hawking free safety, and should anchor the defensive unit that returns five starters.
Southside Academy fell to 2-8 last season after finishing 5-5 in 2007. The Jaguars will face a tough early and late season schedule, opening against Loyola followed by Calvert Hall in Week 2. They close the year with games against Reginald Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois.
Southwestern head coach Tom Leverett heads into his second season back and fourth season overall at Southwestern. Last year, Leverett took the team from 1-9 in 2007 to 3-7 last year. The team is looking to build upon that momentum with 14 returning starters, seven on each side of the ball. The team is expected to be faster this season, and should be have a solid defensive unit anchored by linebackers Jerrell Williams, Tyrell Hicks, Kevin Langhorne and Roosevelt Cooper.
W.E.B. DuBois made a turnaround last season, going from 3-6 in 2007 to 8-4 and a Class 1A South playoff appearance last year. The Panthers defeated Reginald Lewis in the region semifinals before falling to eventual 1A Champion Dunbar in the region final. Head coach Daryl Jackson enters his third season, and appears to have a favorable schedule, facing only one team that finished above .500 last season.
ESPNRise encourages comments from its users. Leave a comment below. Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com