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:
You won’t hear some often-hollered catchphrase floating over Douglass’s practice field in Upper Marlboro, or see some motivational motto scrawled across burgundy-and-gold practice gear.
You won’t hear veteran Coach J.C. Pinkney peppering players with reminders of what it means to play for Douglass, of the load of talent jumping off the roster, or of last year’s disappointments. The Eagles already know about all of that, so much of it goes unsaid. They’re just ready to play.
“We’re excited,” senior Mikale Makle said. “You can tell the difference from last year to this year. This year, we’re playing as one. Everything is coming together.”
Douglass thought it was ready last season. The Eagles had the pieces: the quarterback and the offensive line to protect him, size and speed all over, the experience of a state championship berth the year before.
But there’s a difference between thinking you’re ready and knowing it. As it turned out, the Eagles weren’t ready last season.
They fell (though barely) to Wise in their much-hyped season opener. Then they tripped twice on the catawampus Gwynn Park field — the second stumble coming in the first-round playoff matchup that ended their season.
In those games, Douglass tripped on their own mistakes while they were slowed by the Yellow Jackets’ talent. The Eagles didn’t always know what they were lacking, but in a bad penalty here or a slip-up there, something was missing.
“There’s nothing we can do about last year,” Pinkney said. “It hurt the seniors last year, but we’ve learned from it, and now we’re ready to go.”
Quarterback Devin Butler is back, the mobile junior who seems like he’s been a Prince George’s County players-to-watch forever. He basically has been, a career starter who led the Eagles to that 2012 Maryland 2A state title game.
“That kid, man,” Pinkney said with a grateful grin. “He’s done so much. He’s really been working, and he’s getting better.”
Despite the loss of standout Gary Gross, the offensive line charged with protecting Butler will be a strength, too. Makle and emerging runners such as juniors Ke’Shawn Hall and Jerrod Williamson look ready to pick up big yards behind that line in Douglass’s run-heavy offense.
Then there’s sophomore Kollin Smith, who’ll play in the secondary and in the slot on offense. Asked which of their teammates they were most excited to see play, Makle and classmates Quinton Jordan and Amir Fenwick named Smith with a smile: he was the Maryland 2A state champion in long jump as a freshman, a freakish athlete Pinkney says is “a medalist-type” in track, but “can play some football.”
On defense, young Eagles talent should benefit from a year’s worth of lessons and the leadership of more experienced players.
Jordan, a senior defensive back, rose up recruiting boards as quickly as anyone in Prince George’s County this offseason, and he is now earning consistent Bowl Subdivision interest. His classmate Amir Fenwick, one of the top defensive linemen in the county, will anchor a big and strong front four.
Six-foot-three, 200-pound linebacker Marcus Bowman emerged as a central part of the Douglass defense as a freshman last year, and Pinkney said he expects even more in 2014.
So the pieces are in place once again, and Makle says the intangibles of unity and chemistry and motivation are present this time around.
“We just want to win a championship,” he said.