It is only three weeks into the season, but it has become clear to most coaches that there is a growing gap between the county's top football teams and everyone else. In just three weeks, 13 games between county teams have been decided by four or more touchdowns. Scores like 52-6, 43-0 and 49-0 have become routine.
Ask coaches to predict which teams will make the playoffs and there is little doubt or discussion that Suitland, Eleanor Roosevelt and C.H. Flowers are set in the Prince George's 4A league and Douglass, Potomac, Gwynn Park and Forestville are the class of 3A/2A. There are few teams in the middle of the pack.
"This is the worst I've seen it in our league in some time," Forestville Coach Charles Harley said. "Last year, I don't think there were so many have-nots. . . . This year, some teams have no chance against Douglass, Potomac and Gwynn Park. No chance. Last year, they may have been beaten bad, but they had a chance."
"The haves and have-nots, hopefully that will shift," said Earl Hawkins, the county's supervisor of athletics. "It used to be that talent was cyclical, that certain schools would be up for a couple years and then other schools. That trend has been broken. It seems like the same schools have been on top consistently. I don't know why."
Many of the county's coaches, however, are able to come up with explanations, though they express them cautiously because they do not want to offend anyone. Part of the problem, many said, is that players often transfer to schools that have winning teams. Another reason for the growing disparity, several said, is that offseason workout programs vary greatly from school to school and have a significant impact.
"Without trying to disrespect anybody, I think if you look at a lot of those teams that are the haves, I think they're more program-oriented," said Eleanor Roosevelt Coach Rick Houchens, whose team has advanced to the playoffs four of the past five seasons. "It's not that [the struggling teams] don't care as much as everyone else, but there is usually a difference between what you call a program and a team. I think the results reflect that."
Added Harley: "There is a lot of transferring going on this year. Did the rich get richer and the poor get poorer?"
Indeed, most of the talented players who transferred wound up at schools with strong programs. Gwynn Park added several transfers, including wide receiver Rob Surratt from Episcopal and safety Wilbert Brinson from Suitland. Douglass gained defensive lineman Patrick Mimms from Parkdale. Eleanor Roosevelt added Nico Scott from Ballou and Malcolm Banks from Parkdale, though Banks has yet to play this season because of an investigation into whether several players who left Parkdale are eligible to play at their new schools, according to Houchens and other coaches.
"Until it is completely cleared up, we are not taking any kind of chances at all," Houchens said, unwilling to risk having to forfeit any games that Banks played in. "That's the only safe way that you can do it. You're not going to let one guy affect your program."
Hawkins would not confirm the investigation and declined to comment on the matter.
Saunders Crosses the Line
Raymond Saunders spent much of last season blocking linemen and linebackers, playing tight end for the Oxon Hill football team. This season, however, the junior has moved to fullback and the switch has proved successful, with Saunders rushing for two touchdowns in each of the Clippers' first three games.
Saunders, who also starts at outside linebacker, scored on a pair of one-yard runs this past Saturday, lifting Oxon Hill to its first victory of the season, 21-8 over previously undefeated Bowie. Saunders carried 15 times for 91 yards and also had a two-point conversion run.
Saunders also had a 92-yard touchdown run in a season-opening loss to Hereford.
"He's a big, physical guy and strong as an ox," Oxon Hill Coach Randolph Warren said. "And he's faster than people think."
Take a Seat
Still awaiting construction of a new set of bleachers in its football stadium, Fairmont Heights had to move its home game against Gwynn Park to Central this past Saturday.
Fairmont Heights Coach Stefan Gansert said that his team's first home game became dangerous when the crowd spilled onto the field because there were few places to sit and watch the game. Contractors removed the stadium's old wooden bleachers this past spring, but have yet to install new metal bleachers. Without seats and playing a top team like Gwynn Park, Gansert said he was told the game needed to be moved to accommodate a potentially large crowd.
"Of course, you're upset about it, but that's part of the game," Gansert said. "To me, bleachers don't win or lose the game."
Fairmont Heights lost, 32-6, but it should get its home field back this week regardless of whether its bleachers are in place: Its opponent this Friday is Bladensburg, which is playing all of its games on the road this season while a new school is built. Central, meanwhile, has a home game scheduled.