Potomac wide receiver-defensive back Deante Steele was the only sophomore on the All-Northwestern Region offensive first team last season. And he was the only sophomore on the All-Region defensive first team.
"I thought his skill level was as good as anybody in the state as a 10th-grader," said Panthers first-year head coach Tony Lilly, Steele's secondary coach in 2004.
But that skill level is not what most impressed Lilly. Despite being surrounded by older players, Steele emerged as a team leader in words and actions. Lilly calls the 5-foot-7, 175-pounder "the hardest-working player on the field on every single play," which includes practice -- even when the coach would prefer Steele rest a minor injury.
"I don't want to say, 'Oh, I'm hurt, I can't run,' or something like that," said Steele, a key reserve last season on the Potomac basketball team that reached the state tournament. "Then somebody else says, 'Oh, I'm hurt, too. I can't run. If he doesn't have to run, why do I have to run?' . . . That [dedication] goes for all the leaders on the team."
Of Steele's 12 touchdowns last season -- five rushing, six receiving, one on a kickoff return -- 10 were from 25 yards or more. In a win over eventual region finalist Stonewall Jackson, he scored on 30- and 45-yard runs, 38- and 68-yard receptions and a 65-yard kickoff return, a performance that spurred one of the officials to offer profuse congratulations as they walked off the field.
"His work ethic is one that allows his abilities to come to a level that's beyond his age right now," Lilly said.
-- PRESTON WILLIAMS