DeMatha football starts strong behind a talented junior class

John McDonnell/THE WASHINGTON POST - DeMatha’s Cam Phillips (center), shown last year against Good Counsel, has emerged as a playmaker for the Stags.

For a program that had played in every Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship between 1997 and 2010, DeMatha’s loss last season to Gonzaga in the WCAC semifinals seemed like the ultimate gut punch.

DeMatha is used to reloading, not rebuilding. But last season’s disappointing 6-4 finish was part of a long-term plan to restore the Stags at the top of the WCAC, which rival Good Counsel has dominated in recent seasons.


Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the first full slate of games in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia football seasons.

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the first full slate of games in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia football seasons.

DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks played a number of sophomores last year, hoping the bumps those players endured would pay dividends for future of the program. The season has just begun, but Brooks, who replaced longtime coach Bill MacGregor in May 2011, already has started to see some of the payoff.

The Stags (1-0) opened the season with a dominant 52-14 win over Hillside (N.C.), with several juniors playing key roles.

Running back Mark Allen, who had 292 rushing yards last season, ran for 152 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries; linebacker Jawhaun Bentley, who missed last season with an ACL tear, had 13 tackles and two sacks; and Spencer Kleinrichert had nine tackles from his linebacker spot.

Bentley, Brooks said, is DeMatha’s “best kept secret;” the 6-foot-3, 240-pound junior has the ability to cover sideline-to-sideline. Brooks believes both Bentley and Kleinrichert are due for breakout seasons.

Kleinrichert, who currently has scholarship offers from Maryland and Massachusetts, “plays with so much energy and such high intensity every play, every game,” Brooks said. “With his ability both as a linebacker and as a leader, he is going to stand out as one of the top players in the area.”

The player who may generate the most attention this year, however, is wide receiver Cam Phillips. The junior nearly surpassed his totals from all of last season with a breakout game in the opener, catching seven passes for 145 yards and four touchdowns.

The performance earned Phillips an offer from North Carolina, which joins Virginia as an early suitor. The Cavaliers offered Phillips this summer after his performance at a 7-on-7 camp in Charlottesville.

Since Phillips’s breakout performance, Brooks said his phone has been “blowing up,” with coaches from Tennessee, Boston College and N.C. State among those expressing interest in the 6-2, 185-pound pass catcher.

“He might be one of our most versatile players on the team,” Brooks said. “He’s able to stretch the field as an offensive player, he has outstanding ball skills, he’s able to cover as a [defensive back] and he’s a heck of a competitor.”

The early returns on last year’s rebuilding project are certainly positive. However, Friday’s game against Baltimore power Calvert Hall may prove a truer litmus test for DeMatha’s juniors, and with an especially deep WCAC this season, the Stags have a long road ahead before they declare it a success.

Brooks, though, is confident the payoff will be there.

“I think you’re going to see a much different team this year,” he said.

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