For the Record

Coach: Steve Crounse, third season

Record: 11-9

Starters back: 5 on offense, 4 on defense

Past five seasons: 38-15, one playoff appearance (2001 3A finalist)

The Breakdown

Patuxent's offense may be more diverse than it was last season, with the backfield of junior Robert McClain and senior Jeremiah Mason splitting the carries. Last spring McClain was the SMAC runner-up to state champion Steven "Storm" Knight of Calvert in the 110-yard hurdles during outdoor track season. Mason showed a lot of promise last season before he hurt his knee in the Panthers' seventh game against Leonardtown.

Just to keep defenses honest, look for senior Gordon James, a 225-pound all-SMAC defensive lineman, to line up at fullback.

Another reason for senior quarterback Delonte Janey to be stronger this year: Junior center Brent Lankford is in his second season as a varsity starter. Their communication should be much improved.

Panthers Coach Steve Crounse said the brutal three-game stretch to start last season -- losses to eventual 3A champion Linganore and playoff teams Westlake and Thomas Stone -- showed that his team lacked the toughness it displayed later in the season. This season, Patuxent opens with Huntingtown before facing Westlake and Thomas Stone again.

"Our toughest stretch is right in the beginning," Crounse said. "We weren't physically ready to play those games then. The focus now is playing past the end of October. . . . These were the kids who took their lumps [two years ago]. This is now the apex for this group."