The disappointment of being so close to the glory of a state title still lingers nine months later. It is not something that is brought up often, but the Potomac Wolverines remember the heartbreak of blowing an 18-point halftime lead and losing in overtime.
Throughout the offseason and during preseason practice last month, the Wolverines were motivated by one goal, Coach Eric Knight said: bringing the Oxon Hill school its first state championship in football. But the Wolverines are not alone in their quest. Although it's the goal for nearly every team entering the season, it's not farfetched for several Prince George's County teams.
Potomac returns nearly all of its key players, with the exception of second-team All-Met quarterback Harold Dorman, but the team believes junior James Nickens will be a more-than-capable replacement.
Eleanor Roosevelt, which steamrolled through its schedule last season before losing to Damascus in the Maryland 4A semifinals, features quarterback Derrick Williams, considered by some recruiting analysts to be the nation's top high school prospect. But the Raiders might not be the favorite in their Prince George's 4A League, according to many coaches who think Suitland, with a strong senior class and standout junior linebacker Navorro Bowman, is the team to beat.
In Prince George's 3A/2A, Potomac will be challenged by Douglass and Gwynn Park, whose coaches are confident after going a combined 23-3 last season, splitting their two meetings.
"We were unhappy with the way we finished last year, and we're planning on finishing the business that we started last year," Knight said. "That's just something we have on our mind. We felt we were the best team in the state last year [regardless of classification]. . . . We worked hard to make that long march back to M&T Bank Stadium this year. That's our goal. We have one goal. County, region [titles] -- they all mean nothing. We want the state.
"I'd say we're definitely one of the counties [teams from other areas] are aiming at. I think we've got the best athletes in the state, without a doubt, and recently we've proven with the athletes we have and some of the coaching staffs that are together, we're definitely one of the counties to be reckoned with on a year-in and year-out basis."
Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney said: "There's a lot of competition throughout the county, which makes you prepared when you get in the playoffs. I think we can compete with any other county in the United States. We're really fast and physical. I have to say that [Prince George's] is a county to reckoned with."
Of course, any discussion of the county's top team must include DeMatha, the Hyattsville private school that starts the season No. 1 in The Post's rankings with its usual bevy of top college prospects, five of whom have already accepted college scholarships. DeMatha Coach Bill McGregor, who enters his 23rd season with a career record of 205-30-3, said that most of his players are from Prince George's and have grown up playing for boys' and girls' clubs in the area.
"I think it's a good year" in Prince George's, McGregor said. "The state of Maryland is improving. I think the coaching has improved. The offseason programs have improved. Just the idea of football overall has improved and I think there is more interest in the game of football now."
With Ralph Paden retiring after 29 seasons as the head coach at Fairmont Heights, McGregor is by far the most tenured football coach in the county. Suitland's Nick Lynch has the longest tenure of the county's public school coaches, with nine seasons at the District Heights school. Rick Houchens is entering his eighth season at Eleanor Roosevelt. And the dean of the county's public school coaches, Mike Mayo, is entering his fourth season at C.H. Flowers, his 12th season overall after starting at Forestville. His successor there, Charles Harley, is entering his fifth season.
There are six first-year coaches in the county, but most coaches believe there is more stability in their staffs even though other jurisdictions are able to pay their coaches more money and have larger paid staffs.
"Part of it is the coaches are getting better," Houchens said. "The preparation is getting better."
Since the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association began holding state football tournaments in 1974, Prince George's County has claimed multiple state titles in the same year only twice -- with Parkdale and Friendly prevailing in the inaugural tournaments and Eleanor Roosevelt and Forestville 25 years later in 1999.
The only other jurisdiction to win multiple state titles in one season is Montgomery County, which has accomplished the feat 10 times, including five years when Montgomery teams totaled three championships.
Could this be the season that Prince George's makes a run at taking home three championships? Under the revised playoff format that went effect into last season, creating four-team regional playoffs, the county is guaranteed one berth in the Maryland 4A semifinals and its teams are well-positioned to advance to the semifinals in the Maryland 3A and 2A tournaments.
"I'm looking for it to be a big year if everybody doesn't beat each other up," Houchens said.