A year ago, T.C. Williams went 14-0 and won the AAA state championship. That squad had two 1,000-yard rushers, a quarterback who completed more than 60 percent of his passes with 19 touchdowns and an end who caught 31 passes for 14 touchdowns and an average of nearly 20 yards.

That team also had an outstanding defense, allowing just 56 points in 14 games. It recorded nine shutouts, including three in the playoffs. The narrowest margin of victory was 10 points, in the 10-0 state championship victory over Hampton. Eleven players earned college scholarships; four made the all-Met team.

Because only two starters from that championship team returned this year, area coaches felt T.C. Williams was at least a year away from repeating the greatness of last year's team. Yet, the Titans have an 9-1 record and their fourth consecutive Northern District championship.

"It would be unfair to compare this team with last year's team," said Coach Glenn Furman. "That team was built on great individual talent. We could get by on that sometimes. We can't this year. This year the team wins with a total team effort every week."

The Titans still play strong, aggressive defense. They have not posted a shutout, although they have allowed just 91 points and have given up fewer than 10 points in seven games. They allowed 17 points in their only loss, 17-13 to West Potomac, the team they will be host to in the opening playoff game Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Last year's team averaged almost 29 points per game. This season the offense, without a returning starter, has scored 18.4 points, averaging just over 18 points per game. Despite fumbling more than twice as much as last year, the team has done just enough to win.

This "rebuilding" process isn't unique to T.C. Williams. Furman took over as coach four seasons ago and started a very young team, including seven sophomores. That team peaked last season. Furman feels this team is similar.

"We start six sophomores and this team has had to establish its own identity," said Furman, whose four-year record is 40-5-2, including an incredible 19-0-2 in the rugged Northern District. "We feel the winning tradition at T.C. Williams has carried over on this team. This team knows how to win; it has great determination to win."

Replacing an entire offense is difficult enough; T.C. Williams also lost three backup offensive players who would have started this season, including the second-string quarterback. But in stepped Spencer Jenkins, a wide receiver transfer from Florida.

Furman decided Jenkins was his best athlete and installed him at quarterback. After a slow start, Jenkins has come on strong. He has rushed for more than 500 yards, scored nine touchdowns and thrown for four.

"I think Spencer sensed pressure coming to play quarterback for the state champions and replacing a three-year starter (Glenn Williams)," Furman said. "It took time for him to learn the position and for the team to accept him, but once he settled in, our offense has improved. We now feel that a team has to beat us, because we won't beat ourselves."

T.C. Williams runs a very basic offense. As Furman says, "It's not how many different plays you can run, it's how well you can run them." This creates the ball-control that the Titans desire. But the strength of this team remains the defense.

Linebackers Franklin Sanders and Lamont Windsor are the returning starters and they have provided the ability and especially the leadership Furman needed. Windsor's 65-yard interception return in the fourth quarter gave the Titans a 21-14 victory over Hayfield.

"These guys were the starters last season and their leadership has been invaluable to me," said Furman. "The coaches can talk about leadership and confidence all they want, but those two players were the ones to instill those qualities in our defense."

This team has improved each week since the fourth-week loss to West Potomac. Furman said that loss was the turning point as the team stopped talking about last year and the winning streak (which ended at 17,) and became more determined. West Potomac will face a much different T.C. Williams team this time around.

It appears that T.C. Williams won't have "rebuilding" years. Its freshman and junior varsity teams are both good and the winning tradition continues.

"Four years ago we set out to establish consistency in our program," said Furman. "We want to challenge for the championship each and every year; that's the mark of a good program."