There is the basketball player who talked his way into playing quarterback in his first season of organized football. The former third-string quarterback is now a starting wide receiver. Some players regained their academic eligibility, others decided to return to the team after a year off. After a full offseason of weight training and workouts, Parkdale Coach Damian Ferragamo knew his team would be different this season.
And although the 2005 campaign is but a game old, one thing is clear: The Panthers are not the same pushover. In a Prince George's 4A league known for its toughness and physical play, last season some opponents smirked at Parkdale's pass-oriented offense, which mustered only one victory, 20-14 over winless Laurel in the season finale.
Parkdale plays Laurel again tomorrow, though seemingly in much different circumstances. The Panthers beat Central, 61-0, in their season opener and now are looking to create a winning streak.
Perhaps the easiest way to measure the turnaround is the play of junior running back Jason Smith, who combined to throw and run for more than 1,000 yards last season as Ferragamo relied on him as a playmaker. Against Central, Smith carried three times for 21 yards and was shaken up on his final carry, a 6-yard touchdown run that made it 19-0 in the first quarter.
"I could tell we would be fine without him so I told him to take the rest of the day off," Ferragamo said. "Last year, we were pretty dependent on Jason, and that made it difficult for him. When he couldn't get anything going . . . it was him against the world."
Smith has some help this season. Senior Brandon Brockington started last season's final two games at quarterback and was slated to start there this season. But he shared time against Central with Larry McKinney Jr., a starter on the school basketball team who had never played football.
McKinney had talked to Ferragamo about coming out for the team last season, so when the player revived the discussion this offseason, Ferragamo had low expectations. When McKinney asked about playing quarterback, the coach's answer was decisive; he already had a quarterback with game experience and there was no need to teach a new player.
"But he eventually talked me into it and I'm glad he did, because he can throw the ball a mile," Ferragamo said.
Against Central, it seemed McKinney could only throw the ball in the end zone. All four of his completions went for touchdowns, two to sophomore Kay Kromah and two to senior Floyd McDonald -- of whom Ferragamo had the same expectations that he did for McKinney.
McKinney is a good athlete; if he played, Ferragamo could envision him having success. He also has developed into a team leader and is the team's kicker and punter. With McKinney sharing the quarterback duties, Ferragamo felt more comfortable using Brockington on defense, less concerned that an injury would leave him without a quarterback. (Brockington completed 4 of 6 passes against Central and rushed for 92 yards and two touchdowns.)
McDonald, on the other hand, was the backup quarterback's backup last season, all of 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds. "But we were watching him in gym class; he was in a team sports class I taught," Ferragamo said. "We're playing flag football and he's catching the ball over and over. And we're saying to ourselves, 'It's just a bunch of yahoos. It doesn't mean anything at all.' "
It meant a little more when McDonald, all of 5 feet 7 and 170 pounds, continued catching passes at summer passing leagues, but how would he do in pads? When he did well at the start of practice, how would he do in a game? Two touchdowns catches against Central might be a clue.
Of course, Ferragamo expects similar questions of his team. Central, a smaller school in the Prince George's 3A/2A league, was winless last year. So was Laurel. So what if Parkdale improves to 2-0?
"We told [the players] a long time ago we were pretty confident about our abilities this year," Ferragamo said. "That when we beat [some opponents], everybody would say, 'You're supposed to.' That throughout the season everybody is going to have a reason why we're successful and it's not our hard work and dedication. We've got to keep knocking [those reasons] out one week at a time."
No 'X' Factor Yet
Suitland Coach Nick Lynch said he plans to continue using star senior Navorro Bowman in a more prominent role on offense after a 7-0 victory over Oxon Hill. Bowman, an All-Met linebacker, rushed 12 times for 73 yards. "We haven't found that other little 'X' factor that spells him offensively, so we have to play him," Lynch said. "And I'm definitely not going to take him out on defense." . . .
Surrattsville lost a fumble at the one-yard line in the final minute of its 26-20 loss to Sussex (Del.) Central. Hornets Coach Tom Green thought his quarterback recovered the ball, only to see officials give the ball to the visitors. Green was pleased with the play of sophomore Davin Meggett, the son of former NFL running back Dave Meggett. Davin Meggett carried 10 times for 106 yards. . . .
Crossland senior Matt Clark rushed 24 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns in a 19-14 victory over Bladensburg. With two starting linemen and one reserve held out to confirm their academic eligibility, Cavaliers Coach Keith Howard said Clark's performance "may have been his best game ever. He threw up, he came back. He cramped up, he came back. They hit him and he kept coming."