Their secret is out. Northern Virginia Class AA and A football is as good as any in the state.

Long overshadowed by their AAA neighbors like Gar-Field, Annandale, Robinson and T.C. Williams, these smaller schools demonstrated last season that little doesn't necessarily imply inferior play.

Osbourn (11-1) reached the AA state finals last season (as Northwestern District rival Park View had two years ago) and George Mason raised some eyebrows in the A playoffs. Despite their protests to the contrary, the Bull Run District and Northwestern District champions will be recognized as area and state powers again this season.

Osbourn may not match last season's unbeaten regular season mark, but there is still enough talent and experience for an 8-2 mark that could allow the Eagles to repeat as Northwestern District champion.

Among 15 returning seniors, fullback Tony Redd is back, as well as leading pass catcher and intercepter David Anderson. Ron Howard and Brian Moliere, two-way starters on the interior line, will provide the necessary experience and bulk up front.

Osbourn Park (5-5) will also challenge for the district crown if Coach Chuck Hornfeck's speedy Yellow Jackets remain healthy. The sophomore running tandem of Tommy Keith and Vic Cannon are tiny, but have durability to match their sprinter's speed. Senior Mike Null returns at quarterback, but will be pushed by junior Don Harvey, who might end up sharing the position.

Tim Mullins switches from defense to the offensive line, where Hornfeck hopes his 6-2, 205 presence will steady an inexperienced unit. Middle guard Larry Church and linebacker Brian Baxter will lead the defense.

Osbourn Park will try to make up in numbers what it lacks in size and will be the district's only two-platoon squad, another method of injury prevention according to Hornfeck.

Traditionally tough Handley (7-2-1) will also challenge once again. Loudoun Valley (5-5), Park View (5-4-1) and Broad Run (2-8) also rate as dark-horse contenders in this evenly-balanced race.

Broad Run will pin its hopes on returning all-district running back/linebacker Randy Cockrill (6-1, 215). The Spartans will go as far as Cockrill carries them.

Offense is the word at Handley where quarterback Chip Schwartz will have the luxury of operating behind the district's most experienced line. At Park View, seven offensive starters return, including the last year's starting backfield. Fullback Chris Frye rushed for more than 800 yards last year as a sophomore and should be stronger and more confident this season. Six defensive starters return led by tackle Tony Korbini (6-0, 225) and linebacker Steve Price.

In the Bull Run District, George Mason (9-2) must replace its entire starting backfield so flanker Dion Bruten and linebacker John Huber have been converted to running backs.

The Mustangs had only 37 hopefuls at tryouts for both the jayvee and varsity. Fortunatley for Coach Jack Gambill, Tom Frye and Steve Ferrari return as two-way starters on the line.

Clarke County lost its first three games last year, but rebounded to win four of its last six. Given a better start, the Eagles should rate as the chief threat to George Mason's title defense.

Two-way tackles Todd Shiley and Steve Nofs will handle the line chores, while defensive back Mike Sipe and fullback/linebacker Mike Longerbee are proven performers at the skill positions.

Stonewall Jackson (Mount Jackson) finished 1-7-1 last season, but it is the team that local coaches agree could be a possible dark horse if its underclassmen develop quickly.