It's 2:30 p.m., just four hours left before the Northwest High School football team takes the field for its biggest game of the regular season. Jaguars Coach Randy Trivers is conducting a meeting in his office at the Germantown school.
He talks about the opponent, defending Maryland 4A champion Damascus, and how everybody in the room must be at their best if Northwest is to defeat the perennial power. He talks about the expected overflow crowd and how it will make for a loud, crazy atmosphere. He talks about keeping emotions in check.
He's talking to his managers.
"You guys are a big part of our victory tonight. You've got to do your job," Trivers says. "You all need to be on top of your game -- just like the players and the coaches do."
Later in the evening -- Oct. 1 -- Northwest, which opened in 1998, will beat Damascus for the first time in school history, 27-24.
Roxanna Gbetibouo, Antoinette Nelson, Kristi Pfaffenberger, Christina Tarpley and Nicole Tarpley will combine for zero yards rushing, score no touchdowns and make no tackles. They won't even get on the field except during timeouts.
But don't tell Trivers that his student managers did not have a hand in the Jaguars' victory. They helped set up the field before the game. They set out the players' uniforms before they went to the locker room to dress. They made sure the coaches had their headsets and the players had tape, water and whatever else they needed on the sideline.
In a game between teams expected to challenge for state championships and featuring several top Division I college prospects, the managers' tasks may seem like insignificant details. But for the meticulous Trivers, there is no such thing.
"It's the little things," Trivers says. "It's the little things that make a difference."
Northwest senior quarterback Ike Whitaker takes a three-step drop and surveys the field in front of him. Wide receiver Darren Brownlee flips a ball over his head and catches it. Defensive end Terrence Peete practices a pass-rush technique in slow motion.
It's 2:55 p.m., and all of Northwest's players -- still wearing the dress shirts and ties they wore to school that day -- are on the football field. Some walk with their heads down. Some stand and look around at their surroundings. Others bounce in rhythm to the music coming through their headphones.
From afar, it looks like the players are searching for a lost set of keys as they traverse the field. But it's one of the little things Trivers was talking about. And there are many in Northwest's pregame routine.
After school, the team assembles in Trivers's classroom. He takes roll, and then the players walk -- in line, in silence, on the same side of each stairwell -- to the field and spend about 15 minutes on it. Because the football team is not allowed to practice on its game field, Trivers wants his players to walk every inch of it before home games. To give them a sense of ownership. A true home-field advantage.
It is also one of several relaxation techniques Trivers prescribes for his players. He asks them to imagine themselves making plays, succeeding at various spots on the field. Eventually the players assemble at midfield, Northwest's captains say a few words, and then the team walks back to Trivers's classroom in silence. There, the players are given 10-page scouting reports on Damascus. The reports include articles written about the Hornets, a roster, a team picture and breakdowns, by position, of their players.
Damascus comes into the game as the second-ranked team in the Washington area. Northwest is No. 4. Trivers asks his players to look over the report while a video of Damascus's game against Richard Montgomery plays in the background.
"They're wearing the white uniforms [in the video] that they'll wear tonight," Trivers says. "I want you to imagine lining up with them."
While the players sit silently in Trivers's classroom, Northwest coaches meet in his office. Those who will be on the sideline tell those who will be in the press box what to look for. They peruse detailed lists of Damascus's play-calling tendencies, separated by drive. They, too, have a game film running.
"You never know," defensive coordinator Bucky Clipper says. "You might catch something."
Like Trivers, his coaching staff and his players, Northwest Athletic Director Jim Tapley has had this day circled on his calendar for some time now. And he, too, has been preparing.
Tapley approaches days like these the same way he approached games when he was a defensive coordinator at Churchill High under legendary coach Fred Shepherd.
"When you're an offensive coordinator, you say, 'We're gonna do this and this and this,' " Tapley says. "When you're a defensive coordinator, you're thinking about what the other team is going to do and how you can prepare for that. I spend all week preparing and making sure things will go smoothly. But before I put my head on my pillow Thursday night, I think: 'Okay, did we do this, this, this and this? Are we prepared for everything?' Just like I did when I was a defensive coordinator."
By Wednesday before the game, Tapley has called the police to make sure they will be sending extra officers. He has double-checked assignments with his security officials. He has divided responsibilities among his volunteers, given instructions to teachers on duty and touched base with teachers who will be attending the game but not working, just to make sure he has a few extra sets of eyes on the evening's proceedings.
He's made a trip to the bank to get change, set up additional portable toilets and ordered a temporary concession stand to deal with the overflow crowd.
"We do all this work weeks and days in advance so the coaches can worry about coaching and the players can worry about playing," Tapley said.
At 3:30 p.m., Northwest's coaches are coaching. Trivers turns off the Damascus game film, flicks on the lights and asks his team to stand up and stretch. The team then goes through its "packages" -- 23 teams of 11 for different situations on offense, defense and special teams. After that, Trivers, Clipper and offensive coordinator Andrew Fields talk special teams -- defense and offense, respectively.
Trivers stresses how the kickoff return team can exploit what he sees as a hole in the middle of Damascus's kick coverage unit. Clipper preaches the importance of limiting Damascus on first down. Fields goes over the team's "script" -- its first eight plays, which include something called "Spread Bunch Right Hop H 17 Socko" -- and asks his players to protect the football.
When that is over, Trivers addresses the team using an inspirational quotation: "We have only this moment, sparkling like a star in our hand and melting like a snowflake. Let us use it before it is too late."
He talks about the message -- he has a new one each week -- and about the need to take advantage of the opportunity before them. Then, as he finishes his talk, he sheds his vest, tie and shirt to reveal a surprise: a black T-shirt, emblazoned with the team's 2004 theme: "Who's Next?"
His players, each of whom will get one of the shirts as they exit the room, erupt.
Annie Silbey, the mother of Northwest senior Kyle MacDonald, got up at 5 a.m. the day of the game. She was too nervous to sleep.
Twelve hours later, Silbey and 10 or 12 others are in the Northwest cafeteria serving the Jaguars' players and coaches their pregame meal. The chicken, sauce, pasta and broccoli are prepared by Ellie Carter, a professional caterer who is also the mother of a Northwest cheerleader and wide receiver Brownlee's next-door neighbor.
Silbey is one of several parents who lend their time to the Northwest football program. They set up the team dinners and breakfasts, they plan the preseason barbecue and postseason banquet, they solicit contributions and donations from area businesses, and they line the field. On the Wednesday before the game, a group of parents started at 4:30 p.m. and worked past dark painting the field, using car headlights to help finish the job.
There are others. Volunteer coaches. Volunteer scouts. Former player Michael Cornejo -- Korndogg, to the coaches -- who spends endless hours maintaining the Northwest football team's Web site (www.northwestjaguars.homestead.com) and lends a hand whenever needed.
Once the cafeteria is cleaned up after the pregame team dinner, Silbey stakes out her normal spot at the Jaguars' home games -- in front of the press box, behind the band -- and anxiously awaits kickoff. She did not want her son to play football when he first showed interest in the eighth grade, but now she can't imagine him -- or herself, for that matter -- without it.
"I know it's just high school football, but for me it's been so important," she says. "And it's meant the world to Kyle."
So much so that even though her son graduates this spring, Silbey will volunteer her time again next fall.
"I love this program," she says. "It's all-inclusive. Randy takes every child and makes them feel special. There's discipline, there's consequences for their actions, and they're teammates like there's no tomorrow. The spirit is just unbelievable. I think it comes from Randy. He's the most dedicated person I've ever met."
From the time the team meets in Trivers's room at 2:45 p.m., through all the traditions and meetings, through the stretching, warmup drills and practiced plays on the field an hour before game time, the coach's voice gets louder and louder. He is trying to lift the intensity of his charges to a crescendo. At 6:20 p.m., as Northwest's players hold hands in the team's "halftime room," Trivers puts the finishing touches on his team's preparation with one final speech.
It starts slowly: "All right, men. This is why we play this game. This is why we prepare. For moments like these," he says.
It builds: "There's no doubt in my mind and in my heart that this is the most together group of men in the country."
And builds: "They've seen speed, but they haven't seen Zo Griffin [wide receiver Alphonzo Griffin]. They've seen power, but they haven't seen T-Nel [running back Tony Nelson]."
And builds: "A.T. [Andrew Thomas], they can't block you!"
And builds: "They haven't seen what we're gonna bring tonight!"
Trivers finishes by reciting a short bit of prose he calls the team's pledge, then yells out each letter in the words "Team Pledge," which serve as an inspiring acronym -- Trivers yells, "T," the team yells back, "Together!"
It continues through each letter -- "E," "Expectation," "A," "Accountability," "M," "Mental Toughness" -- growing louder and louder until the players are in a frenzy. Just in time for kickoff.
On the game's first play, the Jaguars' Salim Koroma finds the hole in Damascus's kickoff coverage and bursts through for a 96-yard touchdown. Except for one long gain, Northwest holds the Hornets to an average of three yards on first-down plays. Northwest does not commit a turnover. The Jaguars win, 27-24.
Nearly everything went according to plan.
"That was a good victory," says a smiling Trivers, loosening his tie after shedding his trademark sweater vest. "A good victory."
It's one of the biggest regular season triumphs in the school's short history. But Trivers's work is not done yet. Before he meets his coaching staff at Glory Days Grill just across the street from the team's field, he must find a cord that attaches to his VCR so he can make a duplicate of the game film.
The next day, he'll show it to his players when they meet at 7 a.m. at the school and prepare to do it all over again.
Special correspondent Rich Campbell contributed to this report.