For Jeff Burek, it seemed like the logical choice. He was good at sports, and he grew up following the Redskins. So just over two years ago, before his family moved from Forestville to Dunkirk, he decided which sport he would pursue: football. He enrolled at Northern High School with that idea in mind.

"But the first time I met him when he first arrived at Northern, I said to myself, 'This boy does not look like a football player,' " Northern swimming coach Kandy Spain said.

After one season of junior varsity football, the 5-foot-11, 162-pound Burek knew he wasn't going to be the next Darrell Green. He joined the swim team and now, as a junior, Burek is one of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's best swimmers.

"Football was something I thought I would be good at, but since I never really played until my freshman year, I didn't really know what I was doing out there," Burek said. "It just wasn't my thing."

Burek was not a newcomer to swimming--he had competed in the water since he was 6.

"The first day of practice, Coach Spain put me in the beginners lane for the freestyle, and I blew everyone away," Burek said. "That was the last time I had to swim in that lane."

Spain said she remembers Burek's performance in that practice two years ago.

"He was just faster than everybody else," she said. "And now that he is older, he's even faster. This makes everyone on our team better because, since he is so fast, everyone pushes themselves to catch up to him."

Burek is one big reason that Northern is a favorite to win the first-ever SMAC title this season. The Patriots have 18 swimmers returning from last year's team, which went 5-1 and placed second at the Southern Maryland Invitational meet and third at the State Invitational meet.

Before this season, swimming was not an official SMAC sport, because fewer than half of the league's 12 schools fielded teams. This year, McDonough and La Plata added teams to give SMAC swimming seven teams--and official status.

"We should win SMAC this year, without a problem," Burek said. "Westlake won it last year, but since they lost their top swimmers, we are the strongest team by far."

Spain will count on Burek, one of the team's captains, to provide leadership and stability. He placed second in the 100-yard butterfly (1 minute 2 seconds) and third in the 500 freestyle (5:54) at last year's Southern Maryland Invitational.

"I want to take two seconds off my time in the butterfly and 24 seconds off my 500," he said. "I know that is a lot to hope for, but I'm a very goal-oriented person."