Ivan Hicks won't have a long wait to get an idea of how his revitalization project is faring at Watkins Mill.
The first-year head coach, hoping to turn around a program that has won just one game in the past two years, may face his toughest opponent in the first week of the season: Damascus. Unlike the Wolverines, the Hornets have been among the state's dominant teams, winning the Maryland 4A title in 2003 and losing to Suitland in last season's final.
"That will be a huge, huge test and a humbling greeting," Hicks said.
However, it is a challenge that inspires Hicks, who says he is "jumping out of my skin" in anticipation of the team's first scrimmage at Quince Orchard on Saturday morning at 10.
Hicks may be new to Watkins Mill but he has long been around winning football teams. The former University of Michigan standout, who had a stint with the Detroit Lions in 1987, served as an assistant for five seasons at Gaithersburg -- including the Trojans' state championship season in 2000 -- before joining the coaching staff at Quince Orchard last season. The high-energy coach, who also guided Gaithersburg's girls' basketball team to a 22-1 record last season, is confident that he'll turn Watkins Mill -- which claimed its lone state title in 1993 -- into a winner.
"It's going to be a tough task, but me and my coaching staff are up to the challenge," Hicks said.
Hicks said the coaches already have accomplished one of their goals -- erasing the losing attitude that had permeated the program recently.
"As soon as I arrived in January I addressed it, and that attitude no longer exists," Hicks said. "We believe we can be successful."
Champs' New Challenge
After guiding Northwest to its first state title in the Germantown school's seven-year history, Coach Randy Trivers enters this season with a new challenge: succeeding in the perennially difficult Montgomery 4A West.
The Jaguars posted a 13-1 record last season, winning their final five games of the season, including a 14-9 victory over Lackey in the Maryland 3A championship at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
After graduating the bulk of last season's starting lineup, Trivers realizes his team has its work cut out to make another postseason push against what traditionally has been the county's toughest competition. A 4A West team has reached the state final in four of the past five years, with two being crowned champion. Since 1995, six Montgomery County teams have won a 4A title.
The 4A West has "definitely been consistent week in and week out," Trivers said. "It's a new set of playoff opponents, so there's definitely a newness from that standpoint. But I think in the past we've been fortunate to have a lot of good 4A teams on our schedule.
"Also, I think the top teams in the 3A in the last several years have been very strong, which certainly helps prepare us going into the 4A. . . . It should be fun."
The Jaguars' biggest hole to fill is at quarterback, where senior Dexter Korto and junior Josh Volpie are vying to replace Ike Whitaker, the All-Met offensive player of the year now playing for Virginia Tech.
Trivers, however, still feels his players enter the season with an advantage: They're the state champs.
"You take teams that have traditionally won, those teams are sometimes able to win just because their opponents think, 'We have to play this strong team. We're in for a rough night.' Sometimes reputation helps you win games. I don't know if we're at that level, but we have tried to build that tradition, that reputation with our program."
Better With Age
Gaithersburg Coach Kreg Kephart has good reason to believe that the Trojans' worst season in recent years will not be repeated this fall.
The Trojans struggled to a 3-7 record last season with a young team and missed the postseason for the first time since 1996. However, after taking its lumps, Gaithersburg returns the bulk of its starting lineup -- including the offensive line.
"We weren't bad offensively," said Kephart, whose Trojans tallied 200 points but yielded 194 last season.
Gaithersburg, known for its strong linemen, seems to have another one as its anchor this fall in 6-foot-6, 315-pound Bobby Dugan. Dugan and his linemates will be entrusted to protect first-year starting quarterback Rodney Nickens, the starting point guard on the school's basketball team who served as backup to Joey Robinson last season.
Nickens rushed for a touchdown in his only start last season, a 13-6 win over Watkins Mill.
"He's very familiar with our offense and very familiar with me," Kephart said. "He worked very hard in the offseason. I don't think the adjustment should be too hard. It's not like he's a brand new kid who walked in off the street."