Once again, Coolidge and Theodore Roosevelt are expected to emerge as the main contenders to represent the West Division in the Interhigh League championship football game Thanksgiving Day at RFK Stadium.
Coolidge was 7-2 last fall before forfeiting five games because of player ineligibility.
And, said Coach Sam Taylor, "We have a very good chance of winning the division this year, and we're getting ready for the challenge."
The challenge for opponents will be to stop the Colts' balanced offense. Junior quarterback Oscar Ellerbe will throw to senior flanker Anthony Meyers, and running backs Thomas Connally (a senior) and Sean Chisley (a sophomore) should find big holes thanks to a massive offensive line.
The line includes tackle George Brown (290 pounds), center Thomas Lawrence (320) and guard Sean Lindsey (280), all juniors.
Underclassmen carry the Colts' offense, and an experienced senior class anchors the defense. Linebackers Jay Hall, Andre Bethel and Connally support a defensive line led by end Gerald Edmunds. The secondary is strong and quick with 6-foot-2, 180-pound cornerback Chris Walker and 5-11, 175-pound safety Derrick Biggs, who "hits like he's 200," Taylor said.
Taylor is concerned about depth, but if he can get his reserves to develop, Coolidge could win its first West title since 1982.
"We're coming along well," he said, "and this team should be better than last year's."
Coach Jim Tillerson, beginning his 19th year at defending West champion Theodore Roosevelt, must replace 14 graduated players. He is preparing the team at a moderate pace, but expects to be ready for Friday's opener against Spingarn and the Sept. 13 rematch against Interhigh champion Anacostia.
"It's going to be tough," Tillerson said. "The league is so balanced. We'll improve as the year goes along. Our schedule is solid. We play 10 of the 11 teams in the Interhigh."
No holes need filling at the key positions on offense. Junior quarterback DeVarryl Williamson starts his second year after leading the Rough Riders to an 8-3 finish last season.
"He is definitely one of the keys to our team," Tillerson said. "Last season there was a lot of pressure on him coming right out of junior high and starting. But he did the job and we expect even more out of him this year."
Williamson should have good protection behind senior center David Allen and junior guard Charles Phillips, each weighing 270. The running backs are senior Gene McCullough and sophomore Wayne Lover.
The passing game will miss big tight end Maurice Johnson, but Tillerson expects that seniors Bernard Ready and Antonio Hart and sophomore Denard Tillerson, the coach's son, will suffice.
"We have a strong sophomore class," Tillerson said. "We expect them to have an impact and the offense to come along gradually for division play (beginning at Coolidge, Oct. 19). Until then, we hope the defense can carry us through."
The defense returns a strong senior nucleus of 270-pound defensive tackle Wilbur Rice; middle linebacker Patrick Murray, a three-year starter; outside linebacker Clayton Reaves, and all-Interhigh cornerback Malcolm Boardley, who led the league in interceptions last season.
"We'll pick up all the loose ends and come together as a team," Tillerson said.
Wilson Coach Horace Fleming, in his fourth year, says the key to this season's success rests on the coaching staff.
"The staff has become much more structured," Fleming said. "Our season depends mostly on how well we do our job, because we feel the players are there."
Wilson, 5-5 in 1984, is a dark horse to win the division. Quarterback Ray Boudreaux returns, but newcomers senior Deleon Ware and sophomore Melvin Pickett will be at running back. "We really hope they develop," Fleming said.
Development could be quick if they run behind the offensive line's senior right side of all-Interhigh tackle Michael Crider (6-2, 270) and guard Malcolm Diggs (6-5, 300).
"We have some good athletes," Fleming said.
Fleming's best athletes may be on defense, however, particularly at linebacker. Senior Garrett Baxter and junior David Middleton cover the outside and senior Bobby Livingston, starting his third year in the middle, could be one of the best in the area. "He is a sideline-to-sideline ball player," Fleming said.
"Our secondary will mature and that should make us as competitive as anybody," said Fleming. "We want to keep the games closer this year, so we can pull them out."
Cardozo's second-year Coach Robert Richards says thrills and speed classify his team.
"We're going to throw the ball," he said. "That's our philosophy -- to keep it exciting."
Senior split end Darrin Marbury, junior flanker Jamie Epps and sophomore tight end Chris Proctor will be the receivers. Tony Epps graduated from the backfield, but 4.5 sprinter David Terry should fill the void.
Also, Jamie Epps, who has the arm, but is inexperienced, could challenge senior quarterback Andre Baylor, who has the experience and technique.
"Epps has the raw talent," Richards said, "but Baylor is the smartest quarterback I've ever worked with. He has really worked hard and knows the system."
Cardozo, 4-6 last season, has had one of its best turnouts for football. Richards expects to keep 40 sophomores and juniors, with many leading the defense.
The junior class is headed by linebackers Chris Gibbs, who was all-Interhigh as a sophomore, and Norman Bruce, cornerbacks Lenny Harris and Anthony McElroy and 260-pound tackle Clarence Williams. End Sherwin Benjamin leads the sophomore class.
McKinley Tech's offense returns experienced seniors at the skill positions. Charles Adams (6-1, 198) and James Holbrook (6-1, 185) are strong running backs. Senior quarterback Gideon Fobbes will throw to tight end Kenneth Wallace and split end Antonio Price, also an all-Interhigh place-kicker.
But, says McKinley Coach Hank Saunders, in his 17th year, "I'm a little concerned with the offensive line."
The Trainers' defense will be stabilized by senior end Alfonzo Black, senior linebacker Major Unger, Holbrook at cornerback and Wallace at safety. Still, "we'll have to feel our way for a while," said Saunders, hoping to improve on last season's 5-5 record.
McKinley opens with Carroll of the Metro Conference and H.D. Woodson, possibly the two best teams in the District.
Dunbar won the West in 1983, but last season fell to 2-8.
"There's got to be improvement over last year," said Coach Luther Banner, beginning his 21st year.
Senior quarterback Victor Wade and tackle Lenny Jones key the offense. Junior running backs Rodney Grant and Corey Jones start their second years. "They'll continue to get better," Banner says.
Seniors Charles Jones (end), Anthony Lee (linebacker) and Tyrone Johnson (cornerback) lead the defense.
"We'll work on everything to get better," Banner said. "What we need is an early win. We'll see."