The 2004 football season hadn't even started, but fans at Broadneck High School seemed in midseason form. More than 100 people, many outfitted in team T-shirts, hung on every play. They cheered. They groaned. They battled each other for better viewing position.
"It was crazy," Broadneck senior quarterback Tony Marino said. "We've never had that kind of support. And that was just at our first practice."
With their first game eight days away, Broadneck players have learned an important lesson this season: At their school, football is suddenly a very big deal.
The Bruins went 13-1 last year, undefeated until the state championship game, and the vestiges of that success are visible all over the school. A record number of kids went out for this year's football team; a record number of parents joined the booster club.
"The enthusiasm has been very good, probably better than ever," Coach Jeff Herrick said. "We've got some great success that we're building on, and that has people pretty excited."
Players think this year's team could be even better than last year's, and for good reason. The Bruins return Marino and running back Brandon Johnson, both key cogs in last season's success. Johnson, a bruising runner and a reliable blocker, gained 10 pounds of muscle lifting weights over the summer.
Kicker Chris Desautels may have the best leg in Maryland, and six starters return on defense. The team's only uncertainty is the offensive line, where it lost all five starters. Still, players seem undaunted.
"Everything's in place for us," said Desautels, who also will play safety. "Every year, we just set a higher goal. All we want to do this year is win the state championship, and we'll prove that's possible."
After the football team made it to the state championship last year, attendance skyrocketed in other sports. More than 75 students, many with faces painted, attended basketball games. "There was a buzz," Marino said. "The whole school was pumped up."
About 130 students tried out for the football team this year, 25 more than last season. They want playing time, sure. But they also want a piece of the social privileges that now come with a Broadneck football jersey.
In years past, football players looked up to those who played lacrosse and baseball, traditionally two of the school's strongest sports. Not anymore.
"Now if you play football, people know who you are," Marino said. "People are like, 'Oh, there's the linebacker, the receiver, the quarterback.' People will come over and try to get a look at you. It's totally different than when I was a freshman. Football is the big thing here now."
The booster club has capitalized. By the first week of football practice, more than 50 people had joined the club. Usually at this time of year, it hopes to have 15. When Broadneck opens the season at Chesapeake on Sept. 3, booster club membership -- which costs from $20 and $1,000 -- should reach 125.
"People are signing up left and right," said Jeff Cheplowitz, head of membership for the club. "This is going to be a banner year for us. So many great things come from the excitement about this team."
And, perhaps, one drawback comes with it, too: high expectations.
"There's a lot of attention, so there's a lot of pressure," Marino said. "People basically think we should go back to the state championship game. We're going to try our best to come through."
back a host of starters.