Washington's best high school football teams credit coaching and youth development

The Washington Post's B.J. Koubaroulis hosts the first episode of Sportscast, a web show that takes you all around the metro area's football landscape with highlights, player and coach interviews and insight from The Post's expert writers and bloggers.
By Josh Barr
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Matt Griffis knew it was time to overhaul his wardrobe last spring. There was so much blue and white clothing in his closet, it seemed like that was all he ever wore.

"That's all my kids would wear," he said. "That's all my wife would wear."

Blue and white are the colors of Stone Bridge in Ashburn, where Griffis had spent the previous 10 years as an assistant football coach. Then, in February, Griffis was hired to take over the program at Broad Run, about three miles down the road. Griffis left one of the area's winningest programs for a school riding the region's longest win streak (28 games) and his wardrobe needed some updating.

"Now I wear maroon. Maroon and black," Griffis said, wearing a Broad Run T-shirt as he sat at the kitchen table of his house, a nearby sign on the wall declaring, "We interrupt this family for football season."

Ashburn is one of a few pockets in the Washington area where football and winning seem to go hand in hand. The community's two high schools have combined to win three state titles in the past three seasons. Stone Bridge has won at least 10 games in each of the past eight seasons and has played in three of the past five state finals. Broad Run, under previous coach Mike Burnett (who left to start the program at nearby Tuscarora), is the two-time defending champions in Virginia AA Division 4.

Travel down Route 108 in Maryland, where Good Counsel and Sherwood are less than two miles apart in eastern Montgomery County, with River Hill another seven miles into neighboring Howard County. Drive along Route 5 from southern Prince George's County into Charles County, where the kids play for powerhouses Gwynn Park and Westlake. In the District, H.D. Woodson and Dunbar are the schools synonymous with the Turkey Bowl, the D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association's championship game (see accompanying box).

Those involved with many of these programs point to three primary reasons for their continued success: The coaches and their staffs, who often build these programs from the ground up; the youth leagues that introduce players to the sport at a young age, teaching them fundamentals; and winning traditions, which make the programs attractive to talented players who want to be part of a winner.

Starting from the bottom

Griffis might be new to Broad Run, but he is quite familiar with Ashburn's recent football history.

"Ashburn before 2000 wasn't a winner, then Stone Bridge opened up and [Coach] Mickey [Thompson] changed the expectations for Ashburn football," said Griffis, who was an assistant to Thompson for five years at Park View and then 10 more at Stone Bridge. "Then you have a high school right down the road, you get a new coach in there [in 2006] in Mike Burnett, and he starts telling them: 'Hey, the kids at Stone Bridge are no different than us. They're in the same league, you've played football with them for years, why are they having success and why aren't we having that success?' Now, people expect to win."

Good Counsel, which opens the season as The Post's No. 1 team after winning the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championship last season, is led by Bob Milloy, one of the most successful coaches in Maryland history. Milloy won six state titles at Springbrook and two more at Sherwood. Several of his assistants have coached with him at each school.

Al Thomas guided Sherwood to the 2008 title, took last season off from coaching and now is back at the Sandy Spring school as an assistant to his son, Marc. Brian Van Deusen is entering his 11th season at River Hill, where he has been able to keep much of his staff intact throughout. Thompson is the only coach Stone Bridge has had since it opened in 2000, and Van Deusen is only the second coach in the history of River Hill, which opened in 1996 and was first coached by his father.

"Obviously we've had consistency in our coaching staff and we demand a lot of the kids," Van Deusen said. "Our offseason weight program is demanding and I think the kids have bought into that. I think that has been a big part of why we can be at the top every year."

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