About a half an hour before Douglass’s scrimmage with Suitland and Blake Tuesday, a tall, lanky kid with an orange streak through his hair and bright, multi-colored socks pulled on his helmet, snapped his chin strap to it, and picked up a football.
Helmetless, Eagles’ quarterback Devin Butler looks exactly as you’d expect a high school sophomore to look: young, energetic, and not quite intimidating.
But with his maroon No. 5 jersey pulled over his pads, his gold helmet strapped on, and a ball in his hands, the 10th-grader transforms into a leader that embodies his team’s rare combination of youth and experience — a leader hoping to lead the Upper Marlboro squad back to the state final with a different result.
The 6-3, 185-pound Butler quarterbacked Douglass to a (12-2) record and the Maryland 2A final last year, throwing for 1,436 yards and 16 touchdowns in 14 games. Butler also ran 73 times for 336 yards and seven more touchdowns. He worked to add muscle this offseason, and seems to have succeeded: he was listed at 165 in 2012.
“[Having Butler] makes my job really easy, because he understands what I want,” said Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney, who employs a complex option offense with the potential to confound a less savvy young quarterback. “When he makes mistakes, he knows. He already knows what’s going wrong, so he’s self-coaching out there as well.”
Butler isn’t the lone veteran in the Eagles’ backfield, as running back Kenneth Freeman, the team’s second-leading rusher in 2012, also returns. But six of the team’s seven leading receivers from last season graduated, leaving Butler and Pinkney to find new targets if they’re to duplicate the 1,400 yards and 15 touchdowns the Eagles produced in the air last season. But with his precocious quarterback distributing the ball, Pinkney seems confident he can reload with playmakers from a junior varsity team that was 10-0 in 2012.
“It’s really nice to have a kid and then you know you’ll have him for three years, and he understands what’s going on. We have a lot of nice [plays and packages] in offensively.” Pinkney said. “I’m excited for him, should be a good year for him.”
As the Eagles solidify pieces around Butler offensively, they’ll also fill out the defense with underclassmen around an imposing corps of more experienced upperclassmen. Junior Mikale Makle will be a staple in the defensive backfield, though he may also emerge as a threat in the slot where he juked then jetted his way to a big play against the Suitland defense Tuesday.
Fellow defensive back Devonta’ High, a 6-3, 185-pound senior, will join Makle to give the Eagles lockdown potential on the outside.
Douglass should have no trouble stopping the run, either. Senior linebackers Malcolm McCoy, who stands 6-2 and 215 pounds, and 5-10, 195-pounder Zuri Page make for an intimidating duo in the heart of the defense. They’re joined by hulking junior defensive lineman Amir Fenwick, who — at 6-2, 245 pounds — should make opposing rushers uncomfortable.
“I’ll tell you, that Douglass team looks good!” Suitland Coach Ed Shields said. “Douglass keeps their pads low, they get off the ball real well. That’s why we always want to scrimmage them because they’ll make us better, make us work.”
“We’re a really young program right now,” said Pinkney, who said he may start a handful of sophomores and even a freshman or two on defense. “We have a few standout seniors — guys we’re counting on — but the core of the team is young … we’ve got some young guys that stepped up like crazy.”
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