Montgomery County's 3A League features an elite college prospect, a program that has to be considered a dynasty and much more. A look at what to expect this fall:
Northwest: Most county coaches listed Northwest near the top of their list of the best teams in the county this season. Not just in the Montgomery 3A Division, but overall.
Coach Randy Trivers, who has guided the Jaguars since their first season in 1998, has a wealth of riches, including possibly the best group of skill position players in the area. The Jaguars averaged 34.7 points per game last season, scoring more than 30 points in eight of 11 games, more than 40 points in four games and more than 50 points once.
Northwest may score more this year.
It starts with quarterback Ike Whitaker, who will start for the third straight season. Whitaker is a prototype new-generation quarterback -- he is 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, has a strong arm and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.3 seconds. Last season he threw for 1,292 yards, 20 touchdowns and six interceptions and rushed for 489 yards and six scores. He looked polished in a scrimmage Saturday against Gaithersburg, doing the little things like carrying out fakes after hand-offs.
Along with Whitaker, a Division I recruit, Northwest has Clemson-bound running back Tony Nelson (758 yards, 11 touchdowns last year), West Virginia-bound wide receiver Darren Brownlee (31 catches, 515 yards, 10 touchdowns last year) and Salim Koroma -- a threat at running back and wide receiver who also plays defensive back and returns kicks.
All should be bigger and faster, thanks to intense offseason workouts. The question for the Jaguars will be on the offensive and defensive lines, as most of last season's starters graduated. But Trivers will have the Jaguars well prepared. Last season, when Northwest went 9-2, its only losses were to Damascus and Linganore, the Maryland 4A and 3A champions, respectively.
Seneca Valley, Paint Branch: It would be hard to imagine a tougher place than Seneca Valley to take over as head coach. The school, which opened in 1974, has had just two head coaches in its history, and both are legends.
Al Thomas guided the school from 1974 to 1987, went 129-24, won five state titles and never had a losing season -- including in 1974 when the school did not have seniors. After Thomas, Terry Changuris took over, went 158-31 with just one losing season in 16 years, and won seven state championships.
Into the enormous shoes those coaches vacated steps Fred Kim, who played under Thomas and most recently coached Quince Orchard from 2002 to 2003.
Coaching changes aside, things won't be easy for Seneca Valley this season. The Screaming Eagles had 33 players from last year's squad graduate, including almost all of their starters.
But Kim refuses to lower expectations for the state's most storied program.
"Anything less than a state championship is a failure at Seneca Valley," Kim said. "Our goals are the same. We want to win a state championship regardless of how many people we lost. We want to win our county, we want to win our region, we want to win every football game. That's the attitude. That's the belief."
Kim does have one of the area's top linemen in senior Jon Walko (6-6, 280) and a valuable, versatile player in RB-LB Quinton Cosby. Both are three-year starters, so they played on Seneca's 2002 state championship team.
Paint Branch, as usual, will have talent aplenty. This year that talent will be experienced, with all but a handful of starters from last season's team returning and Coach Ernie Williams entering his second year as head coach of the team.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase: John Zehner is entering his third season as the Barons' head coach. During his rookie season, he gave a great deal of playing time to members of his standout sophomore class. Now those sophomores are seniors and Bethesda-Chevy Chase hopes to reap the rewards.
Among the Barons' talented seniors are Christian Hernandez, a 6-5, 195-pound tight end, who also is a standout on the basketball team, receiver Richard Nana, running back David Akatu and quarterback Patrick Genova.
Wheaton: Coach Lee Branthover has a disappointing small number of players out for his team, but the Knights always are formidable. Branthover is 75-39 in 12 seasons at Wheaton.
Do-it-all senior Lamar Higdon will contribute at tailback, linebacker and special teams.