Bakari Bayou has been a starter for C.H. Flowers since his sophomore year, and whether he was at offensive tackle, defensive tackle or defensive end, the result was usually the same -- a steady performance without much fanfare.
"The first three years, we couldn't get him to talk," Flowers Coach Mike Mayo said. "The kids would always tease him that the only thing they could get out of him was a mumble. He's loosened up a little."
Now, the 6-foot-4, 245-pound senior has emerged as a team leader, helping the Jaguars (9-1) to a share of the Prince George's 4A regular season title and the second seed in the Maryland 4A South Region playoffs. They will host Eleanor Roosevelt in a regional semifinal Saturday.
As part of his role as a leader, Bayou has found the need to speak up on occasion.
"I'm different this year," Bayou said. "I've opened up a bit and talked to [many] more people. I'm a team captain, so I've got to talk to a lot of people.
"Winning in the playoffs is a big thing for us. Especially playing against Roosevelt, which put us out of the playoffs last year. It's a big thing to everybody."
Although he missed three games early in the season because of a sprained ankle, Bayou is beginning to attract attention from college recruiters. Several Division I-AA programs are interested in him. Prairie View A&M and Bowie State have offered scholarships and some top-level Division I-A programs, such as Virginia and Penn State, have also inquired about Bayou, Mayo said.
"Somebody needs to [make an offer] because they're going to get a good one," Mayo said.
The Road to Baltimore
Whichever team wins the regional title will have earned it. Flowers beat Roosevelt, 35-20, on Sept. 24, but the Raiders have added several players to their lineup since then and enter the playoffs on a six-game winning streak.
Top-seeded Suitland will be challenged in its semifinal by Oxon Hill. The Rams pulled out a 7-6 victory in the teams' first meeting on Sept. 24, when Mark Duncan returned a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown in the final minute. And Suitland must play the rematch without Coach Nick Lynch, who must serve a one-game suspension for pulling his team off the field in last season's playoff loss to Roosevelt.