It's cool to be a football player at Chopticon again.
Challenged by first-year coach Tony Lisanti to be "Hallway Heroes," the Braves now walk from class to class -- and beyond -- as the talk of the town. After a strong season-opening victory at McDonough, followed by last-minute victories the past two weeks over Huntingtown and Patuxent, Chopticon is off to a 3-0 start for the first time Lisanti can remember in his 18 years with the program.
"The whole school is behind us," senior lineman Cory Middleton said. "People want to come to our games now. They don't want to miss a play. They want to see what Chopticon is doing.
"I went into a Wawa, and I was wearing my football jersey, and people were telling me how happy they are by what we're doing."
Since going 6-4 in 2002, Chopticon's record dropped to 4-5 in 2003 and then to 3-7 last season. Lisanti and his players agreed that interest in the program had dropped.
Now that they are on the verge of reversing that trend, the Braves -- and the rest of the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference -- will get the truest sense of just how good the team is tomorrow night. Chopticon visits two-time state finalist Lackey, which is coming off a tough loss to Westlake, its first conference defeat in 17 regular-season games.
"This is Lackey's homecoming," Chopticon quarterback Justin McVerry said, "and the reason they picked us for it was because they thought it would be an easy win. We've got to prove that we're not that kind of team."
Through three games, Chopticon is the kind of team coaches and players aspire to become. The Braves are not leaning on any one or two players, they never quit -- despite being given plenty of opportunities to do so -- and have won a pair of games in thrilling fashion.
After trailing Huntingtown by eight with five minutes to play, Chopticon erased the deficit with a safety and a touchdown run by Darron Showalter. The Braves hung on for a 28-27 victory when Dwight Savoy blocked a field-goal attempt as time expired.
In Friday's 27-24 victory at Patuxent, Chopticon came back from being down 15 points midway through the fourth quarter and won in overtime on a scoring pass from McVerry to Robbie Thomas.
"I'd like to be able to attribute this to something, but maybe it's just our kids working really hard," Lisanti said. "Our real challenge now is to play a good first half so we don't have to come back. But every time we need a play, there's someone there to make it."
If there is a motivating force behind the Braves, it might be that they are playing with a chip on their shoulders.
"We don't have what Westlake and Lackey have with Division I players," McVerry said, referring to those school's top college recruits. "We can't rely on just one person. There's no one big-headed here. Everyone knows Lackey has more talent, so we have to play together."
While the Braves are gaining confidence with each victory, they also are growing more susceptible to the dreaded "big head."
La Plata learned that lesson last season. After consecutive 1-9 seasons, the Warriors won their first three last year behind new coach Chris Davidson. Their heads were high and ambitions higher.
La Plata senior Eric Jobe said: "We weren't focusing on each week at a time. Then we lost a game [50-0 at Northern], and we were 3-1. Then we lost another [41-13 to Patuxent], and we were 3-2. And we wound up losing five in a row.
"We learned just because you go out 3-0 doesn't mean you're going to have a good year."
Although the Braves acknowledge that they have much more left to accomplish this season, they have already amassed memories of playing in "games you dream about your whole life," Middleton said.
"This is the stuff I'm going to remember 50 years from now, telling my grandchildren," McVerry said. "It makes you feel good about yourself."