Friendly High School Coach Jim Crawford picks High Point as one of the top football teams in Prince George's County this fall. High Point Coach John Voight points to Oxon Hill. Oxon Hill Coach Mike Pearson names Friendly.
Almost every coach, though, said his own program was in a state of rebuilding, which should make for an interesting year in Prince George's football.
"There are going to be a lot of mediocre teams in the county," said Voight, who took his Eagles to the Class AA state championship game last year. "A lot of teams lost a lot of people, and I don't know who's going to be good. I don't know if anyone is going to go 10-0 or 9-1. Maybe nobody."
Voight cited his own team, for instance. Linebacker Jim Steele is the only defensive starter returning. Tony Stango, a running back and wide receiver, is the only offensive starter back. The quarterback situation is wide open.
"The kids' work habits have been very good," Voight said. "Practices have been running smoothly, and there aren't a whole lot of injuries. But we're so young. I can't see us doing what we did last year."
Voight's problems are compounded by his schedule. He opens the season Sept. 8 against Oxon Hill, the other team in the county picked by most coaches to do well this year.
Pearson isn't one of them. He had some harsh words for his Clippers, who went 8-2 last year and won the state championship two years ago.
"We lost a lot of people and we have a lot of injuries," Pearson said. "Plus, the overall talent level is down this year; it's worse than it's been for a long, long time."
Derrick Fenner, Oxon Hill's big senior fullback, is "bruised up" and not performing at his top level. Offensive guard Richie Glase also is out because of various injuries. Wide receiver Loren Jones broke his hand and Bernard Battle, the probable starting quarterback, injured his foot.
"I don't know what's going to happen this year," Pearson said. "We have five starters back altogether and we're rebuilding everywhere. We probably won't do anything exceptional this year, maybe go .500."
Crossland's Larry Layman is one of the few coaches returning his starting quarterback. Senior Newton Pelt is as much a running threat as a passing threat, so the usually tough Cavaliers have a head start on their offense. But defensively, Crossland returns three starters and Layman hopes they can carry his team until the offense develops.
Friendly has only five players returning. Three were starters, including linebacker Doug Daniels.
Eleanor Roosevelt has built a solid program the last few years, but this season the Raiders have a new coach, Billy Hughes, the only new one in the county. Hughes formerly played for the Raiders.
Potomac and Largo should also be respectable in the AA. Laurel may be able to put points on the scoreboard, but how many it gives up will be the question.
Fairmont Heights Coach Ralph Paden also has a rebuilding chore. He had to think a bit to recall his returning starters.
"Well, there's me. That's about it."
The laughter quickly stopped, and in a voice that gave away Paden's earnestness, he went on, "There are two people coming back on defense and two on offense. They're the same people. I'm telling you, we lost everybody. Wiped out."
Fairmont Heights turned in a remarkable performance last year for a team that consisted of 24 players. The Hornets won the AB county title for the second time in three years, then took the Region 2 title. They progressed as far as the state championship game before losing, 19-6, to McDonough at the University of Maryland's Byrd Stadium. Paden knows maintaining such success could be his most difficult chore in 10 years of coaching.
"We tell the young kids not to think about the games we've won in the past but just to concentrate on the little things -- moving the feet properly, getting off the ball the right way," he said. "Coaches tend to overemphasize football with all the trick plays and the gadgets and things like that. We tell the kids that if they get the little things right, the big things like championships and trophies will take care of themselves."
Paden's only returning starters are Rod Greene, who plays offensive and defensive tackle, and Ron Stroud, who gained 800 yards rushing last year and doubled as a cornerback.
Stroud will team with fullback Johnny Foxx to give the Hornets a potent running game. Foxx is 6 feet, 210 pounds and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. The running game is complemented by split end Nate Pearson, who also plays free safety.
The only potential question mark on offense, other than the new line, is the quarterback position. Junior Henry Frazier probably will start.
Greene and Robert Flint (offensive, defensive tackle) will anchor the defensive line.
Surrattsville, a perennial AB contender, slipped to 5-5 last year and Coach John Zier, like Paden, faces a rebuilding chore.
The Hornets return both starting running backs, Billy Greene and Darryl McShay, but don't have many offensive linemen returning.
"We're rebuilding our lines right now, and that's always interesting," said Zier, who is starting his 19th year as head coach. "You can't run the ball anywhere if you don't have someone in front of you knocking them down."
Three players are vying for the starting spot at quarterback.
Middle linebacker Bruce Johnson and rover Michael Dean are among the returning starters on defense.
Forestville, the county's youngest high school, could be a contender in the AB League by experience alone. Many of upperclassmen have been starters since they were freshmen and sophomores.
Douglass (3-7) has three starters back -- quarterback/safety Stacy Keating, linebacker Leonard Terry and running back Alan Williams. Jay Albro may challenge Keating for the quarterback spot.