Kevin Freeburger struts through Calvert's recently revamped weight room wearing a sturdy grin, and you wonder why. His Cavaliers are 0-5, and Freeburger's youthful look represents the face of Calvert's roster. What does he have to be happy about?
That grin gives way to a laugh. Whether you believe it or not, with each resounding loss, the Cavaliers are learning.
"It's not like the teams we've played are nobodies. They're 22-3. They're tough," Freeburger said of the combined record of Calvert's opponents: Lackey, La Plata, Westlake, Thomas Stone and McDonough. "Although our record doesn't show it, we're learning and we're growing into ourselves."
Freeburger and his teammates are looking forward to the second half of the season, which starts Friday at Chopticon, another team that has struggled through a winless first half. Calvert has had to virtually rebuild its program this season, having lost the majority of its varsity and junior varsity rosters to Huntingtown, as well as several coaches.
Several inexperienced players were thrust into roles for which they were unprepared. Then, they had to face the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference's elite programs -- Lackey, Westlake, Thomas Stone -- right away.
"It's hard on us [coaches], too," said Ed Hottle, Calvert's first-year coach, who was an assistant at Wesley College in Delaware. "I've learned a lot about myself, about my patience, about there being a drastic difference between the college and high school games.
"I've been a part of some tough stretches, but never anything like this one."
Little by little, Hottle and his staff have worked with the Cavaliers, beginning with fundamentals and studying game film to find examples of improvement in lopsided losses.
"It was a good thing that we were able to work on it each week," junior Tim Travers said. "If they would have put it all in at first, we would have been all confused."
Hottle added: "There have been days when I'm down at practice, and the kids are pretty perceptive. One of them would do something and I'll laugh and things would be fine."
Hottle draws on his players for motivation. He said that four to nine Cavaliers play both ways. Late in Calvert's 28-16 loss to Thomas Stone, six Cavaliers were either doubled over in pain or limping on the field. Hottle called a timeout and went out to talk to his defense.
"They all refused to be taken out," Hottle said. "Each one of them said to me, 'I want to finish.' It's amazing. There's just no quit in these kids."
So even with a 0-5 record, the Cavaliers still look at the season as having five more chances to improve. The first three of those are against Chopticon, Great Mills and Leonardtown.
Last week after losing to McDonough, "We set a goal -- we want to be 5-0 in the second half and that starts now," Hottle said. "These kids are perceptive enough to know who these games are against. They know where they stand and they've learned a lot about themselves so far."
What the Cavaliers have learned the most is resiliency. Freeburger said he heard plenty of bad things about the state of the Calvert program before the season. But he and his teammates have simply ignored them.
"These next three games, if we can win them, and get our momentum going, who knows what could happen," he said. "The [Maryland 2A] playoffs?"
When: Friday at 7
Records: Thomas Stone 5-0, 5-0. McDonough, 4-1, 4-1.
Last week: Thomas Stone defeated Chopticon, 33-6. McDonough defeated Calvert, 41-7.
Last meeting: Thomas Stone won, 10-3, on Oct. 10.
Outlook: Each of the final five weeks will feature at least one critical game that will help separate the five Charles County schools, which are a combined 22-3. These teams offer contrasting styles -- Thomas Stone's grinding, time-consuming running game against the big-play ability and strong passing attack from McDonough -- and the winner will be the one that can dictate tempo. McDonough is the conference's only team to amass more than 700 yards each rushing and passing. Starting with Thomas Stone's 21-0 victory in 1999, the home team has won this game every year. Thomas Stone follows this game with Westlake and Lackey, a three-game stretch that could determine whether it makes the playoffs. The last three times the Cougars have made the playoffs, they have beaten McDonough along the way.
Huntingtown at Westlake
When: Friday at 7
Records: Huntingtown, 2-2, 2-2. Westlake 5-0, 5-0.
Last week: Huntingtown defeated Leonardtown, 21-0. Westlake defeated Great Mills. 47-8.
Last meeting: This is the first time the schools have played each other.
Outlook: Westlake has said all week that this is almost like the start of a new season. After victories over three consecutive winless opponents, in which their starters were out of the game by the early third quarter, the Wolverines will get much tougher tests, both physically and emotionally, in the second half of the season. Westlake is one of only two area teams averaging more than 10 yards per carry, but it's not always a benefit. With their ability to score quickly, the Wolverines have had to keep their defense on the field for long stretches. Over the next couple of weeks, they will attempt to control the ball and tire opposing defenses. Solid victories over Great Mills and Leonardtown have, if nothing else, boosted Huntingtown's confidence in its offense. Senior Nathan Coates scored six touchdowns in those two games, but similarly important, quarterback Bobby Brown threw the Hurricanes' first scoring pass last week, a 30-yard strike to Phil Riley.
Northern at Patuxent
When: Friday at 7
Records: Northern 3-2, 3-2. Patuxent 2-3, 2-3.
Last week: Northern lost to Lackey, 35-0. Patuxent defeated La Plata, 41-13.
Last meeting: Patuxent won, 30-26, on Oct. 10.
Outlook: These teams will be hard-pressed to match the excitement of their game last year. Patuxent took a 16-0 halftime lead, but Northern scored three straight third-quarter touchdowns. After Patuxent took the lead with less than three minutes to play, the Panthers sealed the victory with a sack at their own 13-yard line. This year, both teams need a victory to sustain postseason hopes. Northern is fifth in the Maryland 3A South Region playoff points race, and Patuxent is sixth in the 4A East. Both teams, however, close the season against the conference's four winless teams after this game.
La Plata at Lackey
When: Friday at 7
Records: La Plata 3-2, 3-2. Lackey 5-0, 5-0.
Last week: La Plata lost to Patuxent, 41-13. Lackey defeated Northern, 35-0.
Last meeting: Lackey won, 30-7, on Oct. 10.
Outlook: After both teams started 3-0, they to have gone in opposite directions. Lackey is building steam after a dominating defensive performance last week against Northern in which it held the Patriots to just 17 yards of total offense, including minus-5 on the ground. Five opponents have amassed 51 yards rushing against Lackey. That doesn't bode too well for La Plata, which has only completed 10 passes this season. After starting the season with victories against three winless teams, La Plata has allowed 91 points in losses to Northern and Patuxent.
Leonardtown at Great Mills
When: Friday at 7
Records: Leonardtown 0-5, 0-5. Great Mills 0-5, 0-5.
Last week: Leonardtown lost to Huntingtown, 21-0. Great Mills lost to Westlake, 47-8.
Last meeting: Leonardtown won, 24-21, on Oct. 10.
Outlook: Both teams have been looking forward to this game, not only because of its rivalry, but also because they would like to end their winless streaks against that rival. Leonardtown's victory over the Hornets last season ended a four-game winning streak for Great Mills in this series. Whoever scores first might win because the end zone has been unfamiliar to both teams. Senior running back Phil Hartzer has been the only Hornet to score an offensive touchdown, while Leonardtown has not scored a touchdown the past three games.