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:
As Gaithersburg held its fourth preseason practice Saturday morning, the sounds of a construction crew putting the finishing touches on the home stands at John Harvill Stadium blended in with the thuds of pads colliding. After not playing a single game in its stadium last year while facilities were being built, the Trojans want their home debut to be special.
“This is the finest stadium you’ll find in the state of Maryland,” Coach Kreg Kephart said. “It looks big time. Hopefully, we will play to a level that would give that the respect that it’s due.”
The sidelines won’t be as cramped as in years past when Gaithersburg plays its first home game against Watkins Mill on Sept. 12. The Trojans graduated 34 players from last year’s 8-3 team, and on Saturday morning, the team consisted of just 40 players, down from previous seasons. The Trojans open the season at Sherwood on Sept. 5.
“I’m frankly surprised because we had a good team last year, and we made the playoffs,” Kephart said. “That’s usually a pretty good motivator to bring other kids out. For whatever reason, I guess they didn’t want to put down their joysticks and their Xboxes and come out here in the summertime and hotness and practice football.”
Kephart is encouraged with the group he does have coming back. Less than half the team played on varsity last season, but the players coming up from the junior varsity squad had an 8-1 season last year. He said wide receiver/defensive backs Cortez Ervin and John Lyles and linebacker Tyrik Etheridge have stood out early in preseason practice.
The Trojans will have the challenge of replacing Solomon Vault, who had six rushing touchdowns in 2013 and is now a freshman running back at Northwestern. Zavae Johnson, who had 186 rushing yards for two touchdowns last year, will be back at tailback this season.
Defensive end and Penn State commitment Kamonte Carter is one of the top returning starters for the Trojans, and he is in competition for the starting quarterback position with Petey Jaskins. Kephart said having a quarterback who also starts on defense, as would be the case with Carter, is not ideal, but “we’ve got to put our best 11 on the field.”
Carter and senior defensive lineman Othniel Kpodar said the team was able to build up camaraderie through working out together in the offseason — doing conditioning drills and seven-on-seven plays even when coaches weren’t around.
“It definitely built up a lot of team chemistry,” Carter said. “If we didn’t build that bond that we have in the offseason, you may see bickering and stuff as we get tired. That helped us stay positive. We know how far to push each other.”
Recent Camp Countdowns: