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:
Ask around about the best teams in Prince George’s County football, and you generally get the same answers year in and year out: Wise. Eleanor Roosevelt — always tough. DuVal’s got talent, C.H. Flowers is always in the mix, and Suitland — well, you can never count out Suitland.
But coaches around the county have their eyes on Oxon Hill — this year’s Bowie, perhaps. Last year, Bowie surprised Wise early on and worked its way into contention for one of four Maryland 4A South playoff spots, which had for years been unobtainable for teams left off the list of traditional powers.
Whether into the playoffs or just into contention, the Clippers look built for a leap in 2014. Aesthetically, they’ve now got the nicest field in Prince George’s County — the only turf one — in a new stadium built over the past year. Construction forced Oxon Hill to play all of its games on the road in 2013.
Football-wise, the Clippers are young but experienced, unproven but talented. They made a huge jump last year — from 2-8 in 2012 to 5-5 — with underclassmen at key positions. Coach Craig Jefferies, one of three head coaches at Oxon Hill in the last five years, saw young players take hits and make mistakes, but grow from them.
“We spent a lot of time with the young guys in the weight room, and our offseason conditioning, workouts, that’s helped a lot,” Jefferies said. “And consistency. Playing in the same system for a couple years — that’s paid off.”
The talent Jefferies has at key positions helps, too. His quarterback, Anthony Dougherty, is a veteran starter with the arm and experience in the Clippers’ pass-heavy system. That aerial attack separates Oxon Hill from many other Prince George’s County teams, who traditionally tend toward the ground game. Two of Dougherty’s top playmakers — running back Jeremy Fields and wide receiver David George — both return this season, along with a corps of other outside threats.
“We’re two deep at every spot,” Jefferies said. “We’re set with our wide receivers, quarterback is a two-year starter, so we’re in good shape.”
Dougherty and George climbed recruiting boards this offseason as defenders, Dougherty at cornerback and George at safety. Dougherty has interest from Maryland, Georgia Tech, and others, while George has an offer from Morgan State and interest from Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers and others.
That speed on the outside sparked Oxon Hill to a standout showing in 7-on-7 passing leagues this summer. The Clippers finished first in their bracket at the Ravens’ Under Armour 7-on-7 tournament, then went 6-1 at Morgan State’s tournament in late June. Given the girth and talent of some of Prince George’s County’s offensive and defensive lines, those results may not necessarily be indicators of success. But given the Clippers’ propensity to throw the ball, the results are building belief, Jefferies said.
“There’s a buzz in the community and in the county,” Jefferies said. “People are talking, thinking the program is turning around.”
The biggest reason, he says, is “confidence.”
“The past few years, the team was used to getting beat. When we saw the teams like Wise, Flowers, Suitland, Eleanor Roosevelt, we lost before we showed up,” Jefferies said. “Now, they believe they can compete with them. They feel challenged by them, and that’s the biggest change: them thinking they’re in this to compete.”