With the kickoff of the 2014 high school football season quickly approaching, our reporters will be out at local practices checking in with contenders, dark horses and rebuilding teams alike as they gear up for the fall. Here is the latest installment of our Camp Countdown:
It was cool and cloudy in Forestville, a mid-August morning that looked more like a mid-October gameday on Suitland’s football field.
One practice into 2014, the state runners-up didn’t quite look that part. No pads bolstered their red practice jerseys, passes were hitting the turf more than they did receivers’ gloves and Coach Ed Shields was making “see-even-I-can-do-it,” appearances in the defensive secondary.
“What’s our time?” bellowed Shields toward his managers. The two girls exchanged glances and looked sheepishly back at him. Perhaps a few minutes later than they’d originally intended, they blew the whistle signaling practice was over. There was time for one more play, a good one to end on.
Senior Tyrone Pope dropped back and looked right for wide receiver Tevin Singleton, one of two returning Ram starters on offense and defense combined. Completions had been tough to come by as a new quarterback and new receivers settled in that morning, but on this play, that shaky recent past gave way to potential. Pope hit Singleton in stride, and the latter carried the play out a few more steps before whooping and dancing his way back to the huddle.
Quarterback Wesley Wolfolk is gone. Receivers and defensive backs such as Dakari Ellis and Nick Nelson graduated, too. The heart of the state runner-up defense, Anthony Jackson, is off to play at Delaware. Also, the entire offensive line has also departed.
But Singleton and the Rams aren’t demoralized by the inconsistencies of inexperience, even as they trip them up through mid-August practices.
“It’s Suitland,” Singleton said. “We’ll come through.”
That was the story last year, too. Key pieces were gone from Suitland’s 2012 team, and the Rams were undersized, perhaps too small to survive the Prince George’s 4A grind.
But speed at the skill positions, close-game grit and fearless defense lifted Shields’s bunch: first to the top of the county, then through an undefeated season, then into the state title game. Last year’s new starters were mostly seniors, though. This year’s team will be reloading with younger players.
“This is going to be very interesting,” Shields said. “I’m very interested to see how they react to different pressure. Some people say, ‘Suitland should do this, Suitland should do that.’ I say, just play. The rest will take care of itself.”
Shields will oversee a three-quarterback competition for Wolfolk’s starting spot, and he’ll have to rebuild his offensive and defensive lines. But the holes left are opportunities for younger players he believes are talented enough to fill them.
He has his running back in junior Rakeem Darden, who at 6 foot, 212 pounds was more of a blocker last year, but will be a bruising workhorse this season. Paired with 5-11 but ultra-speedy Singleton on the outside, whoever assumes Suitland’s quarterback position will have weapons around him.
“People don’t know, we have a lot of young players rising at the moment,” Darden said. “We’re a young team, but taking it day by day to get better.”
Darden says the Rams’ offseason training helps Suitland replace, reload and recalibrate each year, regardless of who’s wearing those red and white practice jerseys.
“We do a lot, we really push ourselves,” Darden said. “We run.”
The Rams run, and run, and run. Because speed sparked and saved Suitland again and again in 2013, as it had in years past, too. In their noticeable absence of height and girth, speed becomes key.
“We have to be fast,” Shields said with a smile. “We’re tiny!”
He said that last year, too.
Most recent Camp Countdowns: