It was growing dark and the turf was slick from an all-day drizzle but Montgomery College coach Al Kouneski kept his players on the practice field at the Rockville campus.
And he worked them hard - barking out a new formation to his running backs, jogging downfield to praise a linebacker for popping the ball carrier, chewing out a defender for watching the rain instead of the play.
Kouneski's practices are always intense, highly organized and efficient Mont-Rock is a two-year college and Kouneski knows that's all the time he'll have to build a competent squad. The players are conscious of that limit also. How well they play in their two years at Montgomery College may determine whether they will play Division One football.
Perhaps that's why the Knights have been so good. In the last eight years, only one of Kouneski's teams has finished below .500. In 1970, 1974 and 1976, Mont-Rock won the Maryland JUCO championship.
Today the team travels to Salisbury Community College for its last regular-season game. Although the Knights cannot clinch the JUCO Conference unless Harford Community (9-0) loses today, a victory will produce a 9-1 slate - the best ever at Montgomery College.
"I'm tremendously proud of this team," Kouneski said."It's pot luck when you get such a talented bunch. And this season, we had 19 returnees. What more could I ask?"
Not much. This year's team boasts five shutouts. The defensive secondary has intercepted 28 passes, including a school record 10 by cornerback Mike Delaney.
Mont-Rock has scored 160 points and allowed only 31 points by the opposition. The defeat was administered by Harford 7-6, in the third game of the season. The Knights have overcome some of the problems endemic to a two-year program. There are no scholarships.The crowds at the games are usually meager. Freshmen are often expected to perform as well as seasoned upperclassmen and sophomores as vets.
"That's the challenge," said Kouneski. "They get used to all of it, expecially the pressure and it makes them better ball players."
Kouneski has his challenge, too.
"Basically you have four types come out for this team: the guy who was good enough to play somewhere else but didn't have the grades, the late developer, the guy who was lookedover by the big-time schools, and the one who wants to have fun playing the game.
It's not easy when all these players come in here without knowing each other and in three weeks they're expected to function as an effective unit. But they've been able to do it."
The players appear to like it at Mont-Rock.
"I feel I made a good decision to come here," said sophomore corner back Mike Collins, an All-State cornerback from High Point High School. "I'd like to be able to play for the University of Maryland. But I wasn't sure I'd get much playing time coming right out of high school. I came here to get some recognition. This is a stepping stone."
Quarterback John Tarasuk, wasn't happy with offers from four-year colleges after graduating from Gaithersburg High. He also chose Montgomery to establish a name. Tarasuk is second in passing in the JUCO Conference, although plagued by a bad ankle.
The players gripe about what they consider a lack of publicity.
"Maryland's not having a very good year but they get all the coverage," said Collins. "It bothers you a little when you keep putting out and winning and you wake up in the morning and there's only a few sentences about it."
Last week the Mont-Rock machine shredded Anne Arundel Community College, 41-0, in its biggest offensive output. Tracy Lott, filling in for Tarasuk, directed the victory with half-back Keith Crutchfield rushing for his second 100-yard game in a row.
The Knights run the "I" formation with Crutchfield, Patt Claggett and Eddie Shoemaker alternating in the backfield. A strong offensive line is led by George Evans at right guard and Ken Egloff at right tackle.
In addition to the flypaper of secondarymen Delaney, Collins, John Veith and Bob Wingfield, the defense always rests easier with Keith Lyttle at middle linebacker. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, the former high school All-America from Bishop NcNamara specializes in stacking up the middle if he's not sacking the quarterback.
Mont-Rock's kicking game is also a big plus. Frank McLaughlin, a St. John's graduate, made All-America last year for the Knights and is third in the JUCO Conference this season in scoring.