It's not hard for Craig Jefferies to muster the energy to start another season coaching the football team at Dunbar High School. When your team has won six D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association championships in the past seven years, coaching is rarely draining.
But Jefferies says he is more energized this preseason than he has been in any of his previous nine seasons.
"I'm telling you right now," Jefferies said. "This is a special team. They're the hardest-working, most dedicated team that I've ever had. Guys want to learn. They want to work hard. . . . These kids work, and have me re-energized."
Despite the loss of several starting linemen, Dunbar remains the favorite to win another title in the DCIAA, which has 10 public school teams competing this fall. The Crimson Tide has gone 37-9 with three titles in the past four years, averaging 36.4 points per game and holding opponents to 10.9 points per game last season.
Dunbar's strengths this fall should start with the skill positions. Junior quarterback Nathan Bussey is coming off a strong season in which he completed 100 of 175 passes for 1,739 yards and 21 touchdowns. Highly touted college prospect Arrelious Benn (a wide receiver who had 17 catches for 350 yards last fall) returns, along with junior all-league strong safety Vontae Davis. Senior all-league running back Jerry Johnson, who averaged 7.8 yards per carry and scored 17 touchdowns last season, will get most of the carries this season.
All-league guard DeWayne Chappell and tackle Troy Hines are key returning starters on both the offensive and defensive lines, and they will get support from transfers Ralph Alexander, a defensive end from Eleanor Roosevelt, and Chris Williams, a linebacker from DeMatha.
Ask DCIAA coaches "Who has a chance to knock off Dunbar?" and they mention three teams: H.D. Woodson, Ballou and Coolidge. Here's a look at those teams' strengths:
* H.D. Woodson is considered the favorite to win its second consecutive DCIAA East Division title and advance to its second straight Turkey Bowl, the DCIAA title game played on Thanksgiving. The Warriors are eager to avenge a 33-0 loss -- in which they racked up four fumbles and 17 penalties -- to Dunbar. Senior quarterback Eddie McGee (1,110 passing yards) will target senior wide receiver Michael Davis, who replaces graduated all-league performer Barry Scott Jr. Three running backs who amassed a combined 1,113 rushing yards return in brothers D'Ante and D'Andre Johnson and Antwan Stewart.
* Ballou will make a strong push for the East Division title and a fourth consecutive berth in the playoffs. The Knights, who played in the Turkey Bowl in 2003, will be led by sophomore quarterback Ronald Green (892 passing yards and 10 touchdowns) and experienced senior wide receiver-defensive back LeCount Fantroy, who has orally committed to play college football for North Carolina. A cadre of running backs -- Ricardo Nesbitt, Wayne Nesbitt and Jachin Leatherman -- will vie for carries.
* Coolidge has been close to making the postseason in the past three seasons but has fallen short. If the Colts' young offensive and defensive lines gel quickly, they could qualify for the playoffs this season. Junior running back Dwan Thornton is the leading returning rusher (390 yards).
Junior wide receivers Anthony McDonald and Corey McManus will be targets for junior quarterback Andre Glanville. On defense, the Colts have standouts in junior defensive tackle Marvin Austin, senior middle linebacker Marcellus Jackson, junior safety Wayne Ouzts and senior cornerback Alozie Onuoha.
Don't Count 'Em Out
* Running back Charles Wallace (1,488 yards, 15 touchdowns) leads a group of seniors -- including three-time all-league offensive tackle Jeffrey Owens -- intent on making the playoffs in their last season at Theodore Roosevelt. The defense also has a standout in senior defensive back Jelani Walker (three interceptions).
* Anacostia senior wide receiver Emani Lee is considered a strong Division I prospect with speed and size (6 feet 3, 183 pounds). The question is: Who among the three sophomores vying for playing time at quarterback will get Lee the ball?
* Wilson running back Nanda Holmes didn't have much chance to showcase his speed and elusiveness last season, suffering a broken leg in the second game of the year. He's back and healthy this fall.
* Cardozo junior Antonio Cooper is probably better known as the point guard who has guided the Clerks to two consecutive DCIAA basketball championships. But his explosiveness is never more evident than when he breaks into the open field on kick and punt returns.
* Spingarn proved that it has speedy skill position players when it captured the D.C. summer passing league championship. But it remains to be seen whether the defense -- anchored by all-league players in middle linebacker Ryan Smith, cornerback Don Tyler and strong safety Chris Thomas -- can deliver.