The standard question among the Prince George's AA football coaches is not who is the favorite but who plays whom? The AA league picked up three additional schools this year to raise the number of teams to 14.
"I don't even know who I play," said one coach. "And since I don't play everybody, I have to watch every team and who they play. Confusing, huh?"
Not as confusing as picking a league preseason favorite. Six teams, including defending Maryland State A champion Friendly, could win the AA title. Should two teams finish in a tie, the team that won the head-to-head game would be declared the champion. If the teams did not meet during the regular season, a point system would be used to pick a winner.
Crossland (8-3), last year's winner and state semifinal loser to Annapolis, will make another run at the title. Returning All-County quarterback/safety Greg Hill and All-Met kicker/end Alan Sadler will see to it the team gets on the scoreboard. Linemen are scarce but nose guard Herb Jones and linebacker/guard David Bowen could stem the tide until Coach Larry Layman finds some bodies to plug a few holes.
Friendly (11-1) enjoyed a 9-1 season two years ago when it played a AA schedule. Should Coach Jim Crawford find some replacements in a few key spots, look for the Patriots to give everyone the blues. Quarterback Wayne Grigsby, fullback John Carmichael, defensive end Paul Massie and defensive back Mark Kotwas will be counted on to provide the big plays.
Another outsider from the A league which could upstage the big boys is Oxon Hill (5-5). A good group of returning veterans, including game-breaker Troy Island, who amassed more than 2,000 yards total offense, defensive tackle Dave Fernandez, quarterback Bill Lampiris and linebacker Eric Door could provide the skill to push Oxon Hill into the race.
Rocco Romeo has scanned the free-agent and waiver lists for help at Largo (8-2) but has come up empty. "I lost three starters in two weeks," moaned Romeo. "And you sure can't trade for anybody." Defense will be the name of the game until the offense scores. Linebackers Dan Worley, Bobby Snyder and Eric Grant will make most of the tackles.
John Voight's favorite word at High Point (7-3) is "building." Prince George's foes know better. Each year that Voight is building the Eagles run for the championship. Linebacker Billy Bradshaw, tackle Robert Glover and defensive end Charles Robinson are good enough to "build" around.
Parkdale (6-4) showed some signs of being reborn last year. The Panthers will be even more improved this year if the defense comes around. Quarterback Roger Lavender, tailback Greg Dudley, end Mike Fopmate and center Mark Fullum are solid on offense. All-league safety Chris Jackson (12 interceptions) may play a running back spot if he doesn't have to make too many tackles.
The surprise team could be Bladensburg (6-4). An excellent crew of offensive players, including end Ed Hill, tackle Chris Druin and backs Mike Stover and Frank Olivers, are back.
Bowie Coach Vic Schwartz has announced every position is wide open to takers. The Bulldogs (5-5) have a host of lettermen back but they have to go both ways to keep the team above water.
Northwestern (3-7) will look to All-League linebacker J. D. Gross, linebacker Eric Payne and defensive ends Cornell Allen and Kevin Brown to keep folks from partying in the end zone.The offense is in trouble.
Suitland (5-5) finished strong last season, winning three of its final four games. Coach Bobby Johnson's troops may cause problems early this season if he manages to find a game-breaker.
Eleanor Roosevelt (5-5), also moving up from Class A to AA, has no size, so has to depend on its team quickness to run after and away from people. Neither will be easy. Linebacker/quarterback Scott Fitzenreiter, guard/middle guard Tony Hatfield and center/linebacker Bob Jackson lead a talented batch of seniors who have been around three seasons.
Potomac (3-7) could be in for a long season if first-year Coach Charlie Sullivan doesn't find a secondary and some depth. The offensive line is solid with center Brian Bean and tackles Chris Gordon and Joe Leaphart. Quarterback John Kavounis also is back.
DuVal (1-9) has talent in the backfield in tailback John Lewter, who scored half of his team's eight touchdowns last year, and quarterback John Watkins. Last year's leading tackler, nose guard Mike Diggs, 6-foot-2, 260, looks like it is in for another long year.
Laurel (0-10) has no place to go but up. Eighteen losses in its last 20 games and 13 shutouts are nothing to brag about. Junior quarterback Charlie Pritchard is quick enough to hurt a team, but he needs help desperately.
The AA league coaches are not the only ones complaining.With the defection of three members, the A league has only four schools. Winning the county trophy will not be much to brag about according to the coaches because it hardly will guarantee a trip to the state playoffs. The schools are bunched together with five schools in the Montgomery Countly "Little A" League. The team with the best record and points earn a state semifinal berth.
Surrattsville (8-2) looks like it has the best shot at both. The Hornets are not deep but have good players in tackles Contee Cameron and Robert Morman, guard Bill Shoemaker and two-way back David Toye.
Fairmont Heights (5-5) has high hopes. Purcell Johnson, who banged his way for 800 yeards and five touchdowns, quarterback Hubie Farrell and tackle Paul Sullivan will have to have good years if the team is to jell.
Central (1-9) boasts it will definitely win a few more games this season. A virtually intact offensive line and a bullet-throwing quarterback in Fran Allen could work a few miracles.
Douglass (7-3), the county's only B school, could be a state contender in that class. Drew Russell and Steve McVicker alternate at the quarterback spot. Defensive back Jeff Whitaker and linebacker David Thompson are the defensive leaders.
Gwynn Park (4-6) has an excellent secondary (it surrendered only four touchdown passes last year), led by Mike Bell and Bernie Wallach.But unfortunately, they don't play offense where the Yellow Jackets need help.