The varsity coach and his top assistant sat in the stands two years ago, watching the junior varsity play its weekly game and wondering what to do with the 5-foot-6, 130-pound freshman quarterback.

"He was absolutely dominating JV games," Friendly offensive coordinator Marcus Berry said. "It was just ridiculous."

Berry urged Patriots Coach George Earley to promote Joe Haden to the varsity immediately, but Earley was not yet sold.

"You're crazy," he told Berry.

He was concerned that Haden's lack of size would become a safety issue and he did not want to bring Haden up to the varsity only to sit on the bench.

Soon enough, however, Haden moved up to the varsity and he has been the Patriots' quarterback ever since. Now a junior, Haden has emerged as perhaps the top quarterback in the county, leading Friendly to a 7-1 start and a near certain return to the playoffs.

"He's worked out well for us," Berry said. "He took some lumps and hits, but we were a lot better on offense when he came up [as a freshman]. I said it was going to pay off in a couple years and it has."

Entering Saturday's game against Fairmont Heights, Haden has passed for 1,457 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions. Berry and Earley always were impressed with Haden's knowledge of the game and ability to run the offense. Now, Haden has added poise and strength to become a top college prospect. He said that Virginia, North Carolina, Rutgers and Marshall already have offered scholarships to a player who has grown to 5 feet 11 and 178 pounds.

"He knows the offense we want to run. That's why we let him call a lot of his own plays," Earley said. "And physically, he has matured a lot. It's obvious he's been working hard. He's a special kid. I haven't seen too many like him."

This season, Haden has appeared to emphasize being patient in the pocket and not forcing passes into coverage. With his increased size and comfort on the field, he is more willing to run when unable to find an open receiver.

In the past, "I was trying to prove I could get my passing yards up," Haden said. "Now if it's not open, I can run it and it's going to help the team more if I can run the ball."

Said Douglass Coach J.C. Pinkney, who watched Haden throw two touchdown passes Friday in a victory over Calvert Hall: "He's going to be something unbelievable as a senior next year if he's this good right now. I was definitely impressed."

Eagles Keep Winning

Making its run toward the Prince George's 4A title and top seed in the Maryland 4A South Region playoffs a little more impressive, Douglass (8-0, 8-0 league) has maintained its winning ways despite a lengthy injury list.

Matt Reid, a defensive back who has accepted a scholarship to play for Syracuse, is expected to return to limited action Saturday at Oxon Hill after missing four games because of a torn quadriceps muscle and a deep thigh bruise. Pinkney said Reid will practice this week with the intent of getting in shape for the postseason.

In addition to Reid, other players who have missed games due to injury include defensive end Tony Patterson (back), defensive tackle Tony Mack (ribs) and free safety Devin Hough (ankle). Two other starters, Pinkney said, were suspended a game for disciplinary reasons.

"We haven't had our starting defense on the field since the third quarter against [C.H.] Flowers," Pinkney said, referring to a 7-0 victory on Oct. 1.

One play that has been working well this season for Douglass is a middle return on kickoffs, a scheme the Eagles call "maximum contact." As opposed to setting up a wall to the outside or creating a specific hole, the blocking pattern tries to funnel opponents to the outside and make a lane in the middle.

Deago Washington had long kickoff returns up the middle against Flowers and Eleanor Roosevelt. On Saturday, Jamaine McCain had a 82-yard touchdown return negated by a holding penalty.

"It works better [against] teams that are very disciplined in their lanes," Pinkney said. "What we try to do is maybe get two or three people inside and clean them out with our second group of guys, who are our big hitters -- they're our linebackers."

Insider Trading

Talk about an unfamiliar setting. Ten days after being fired as Central's coach, Chris Riley found himself coaching against the Falcons on Saturday. Immediately after being let go at Central on Oct. 12, Riley called Surrattsville Coach Tom Green to let him know the situation and soon Riley found himself on Surrattsville's sideline.

"He said if I need some help next year, he would come over," Green said. "I asked what he was doing the rest of this season. I always need help. Most of the coaches who get fired, they get offers from the 4A schools [to be assistants]. I figured if I wanted a chance to get him, I needed to ask him right there."

Since changing coaches, Central has been outscored 164-6 in three losses, including a 52-0 loss to Surrattsville.

In his junior season, Friendly's Joe Haden has thrown 17 touchdown passes and just five interceptions.Joe Haden's stellar play this season has already resulted in scholarship offers from Virginia, North Carolina, Rutgers and Marshall.Joe Haden is succeeding on the field and in the classroom, where he has a 3.37 grade point average while leading the Patriots to a 7-1 record.