With their school under construction, the Ballou Knights spent the offseason practicing at nearby Simon Elementary School. The grass field doesn’t have yardage lines, and a baseball field is just steps away. In order for his team to host scrimmages, Coach Jason Lane uses a field painting and striping machine to place white yardage lines.
Although the Knights have been displaced for a season and were a .500 team a year ago, they are oozing with confidence. And on a team that returns 16 starters, eight on each side of the ball, they are much of the talk of the District.
They want much more than a finish above .500 in 2014, the Knights have their eyes set on a Turkey Bowl championship after being bumped in the DCIAA Stars division semifinal by eventual Turkey Bowl champion H.D. Woodson.
“We want to be in the Turkey Bowl, it’s win or go home,” junior DB/WR Delontae Moore said. “We have a lot of seniors on this team, we’re more mature. It’s high standards for us, the defense and offense are being held to high standards. It’s high intensity here.”
They boast a talented senior class with two who have already given their commitment to Football Bowl Subdivision schools, 6-foot-6 offensive lineman Levon Livingston (Kentucky) and versatile 6-foot-3, 230-pound linebacker/defensive end/tight end William Richardson (Connecticut).
The defense, headed by defensive coordinator Jason Munson, looks to be the cornerstone for the Knights. Senior Rashad Crawford and Livingston form a dominant combo on the defensive line. Richardson can play anywhere on the front seven. And junior linebackers Marquis Hamilton and Dejohn Johnson are tough to block in the open field.
Moore, who has Clemson, North Carolina State and Charlotte offers, will team up with senior Keith Thomas at safety on a defense that forced four turnovers a game a season ago. The coaching staff has raved about the underclassmen’s talent, and Lane said it rivals the junior class he had for the 2005-06 season at Coolidge that included Denver Broncos defensive tackle Marvin Austin, Wayne Ouzts and Dwan Thornton.
“The class I have now has the top five kids from the middle school group in the city,” Lane said. “The young kids really impressed me a lot.”
The offense will once again be headed by senior 6-foot-3, 195-pound QB Tirri Jones. The Knights lost their leading rusher, Stefon Broadwater (601 yards in 2013), and Hamilton will get a bulk of the carries outside of his linebacker duties. An electric talent out of the backfield, Hamilton has received interest from Penn State, N.C. State, Kentucky, Appalachian State and Auburn. Senior Done’ Butler and freshman running back Martin Johnson will also get carries at tailback. Johnson was impressive in Saturday’s scrimmage against Parkdale and Central.
The eight-point loss to Woodson in the DCIAA Stars semifinal showed a major improvement for a Ballou team that was outscored 83-0 in both regular season games against the Warriors. Ballou gets its first shot at H.D. Woodson on Oct. 17 and will face Turkey Bowl finalist Wilson twice in the regular season.
“We have a hunger after losing in the playoffs to H.D.,” Richardson said. “We want to get back [to the playoffs] and win, and get to the Turkey Bowl. We know going into the playoffs it’s going to be a dogfight, and that’s what we want.”