McDonough Coach Larry Johnson realizes his team's accomplishments of last season have set the tone for schools in Southern Maryland, a region where football has been none too prominent in past years. And he knows that opponents will not only be trying to duplicate the Rams' success, but trying to prove that maybe last year's Class A state championship was a fluke.

"It is definitely an incentive to shoot for. It shows what can be done," Johnson said. "The first thing I said to the players is that to get back (to the state championship) is going to be a real challenge. But that has been a source of motivation and built-in pride."

Those assets may have to supplement the Rams' inexperience this year. McDonough lost 16 seniors from its 12-0 squad and still has a few holes, according to Johnson.

He admits McDonough may not be good enough to fight off the challenge from Thomas Stone.

Senior running backs Ryan Ferbee, a 4.41 sprinter in the 40-yard dash, and Brian Williams should see a lot of action in the misdirection offense, as will backs Thomas Jones, a converted tight end, and Danny Steadman, who played defense last year. Junior Curtis Williams will quarterback.

Others are also watchful of Coach Ron Stover's Thomas Stone team.

"Thomas Stone has everybody coming back from last year, and McDonough lost almost everyone. We figure to be in the middle of the pack," said Chopticon Coach Andy Palko, whose team was second last year.

Palko has junior Bruce Parker coming back to anchor the defense, but only four other starters return.

Leonardtown figures to contend, with tailback Leonard Neal and other players at skill positions returning.

In Howard County, defending champion Oakland Mills and its top rival, Wilde Lake, seem to have fallen off, and Glenelg and Hammond are ready to make the most of the opportunity.

"I'm not real optimistic. How we finish depends on how quickly the kids come of age," said Oakland Mills Coach Ken Klock (10-1 last year, 7-0 in the league).

One school that is ready is Glenelg, which under Coach Dennis Cole has moved to a more wide-open game guided by quarterback Pete Kostos and runners Dave Collins and Paul Blackman.

Wilde Lake has big linemen, including Joe Rolowitz and Joe Ellison, and a strong reputation, but the skill players are unproven.

Old Mill, Arundel and Glen Burnie were the big three in Anne Arundel AA last year, but graduation could be an equalizer.

"We have the makings to be there again, but it's a tough task to repeat," said Old Mill Coach Pete Regala.

All-county defenders Tony Masteran (nose tackle) and Thomas Jones (rover back) provide some experience, but the offense may have trouble. The bulk of the point production may have to come from fullback Lionel Montgomery, one of the county's top high hurdlers. Montgomery also stars on the defensive line with Eric Swanson.

Arundel is looking for help on the offensive line, but has a proven runner in halfback Troy Turner. The defense has more stability, returning all-county selections tackle Mike Luebkert and safety Dino Dodson.

Blockers are the strong point of Glen Burnie's offensive scheme, with Tony DeBarbiery, Carl Thomas and Bruce Northcraft leading the way for fullback Ivan Bond.

Annapolis Coach Al Laramore also has most of his offensive line coming back, including son Dave, while Shawn Simms, Steve Moser and Tom Parker return to key the running attack. Dan Laramore will quarterback.

There are some question marks in Anne Arundel AB where Southern, Northeast and South River are expected to have a close fight for the top spot.

"The squads are awful small," said Southern Coach Buck Gardner, who will use many of his players on both offense and defense. "The kids are just not coming out."

Of the players Gardner has, quarterback David Cassard, running back Robert Taylor and linebackers Larry Atwood and Exys Jones promise to be the best.

Optimism follows Northeast Coach Bart Rader, who hopes his running backs can follow blockers Mark Bargar, Sung Choi and Jim Smith.