A funny thing happened to Churchill on its way to a possible third consecutive Maryland State AA football crown last year. The Bulldogs were blanked by a bigger, more aggressive Whitman team and were reduced to the unaccustomed role of spectators during the playoffs.
Well, Fred Shepherd's team is back and snorting flames and unless Springbrook, which has a mortal lock on 7-3 seasons (six of the last seven years), or Whitman stops the Bulldogs Churchill will win another Montgomery County Class AA title.
With the defection of Wheaton and Northwood to the A league, the AA league has only five teams. The A league has been broken down into a "Big A" (nine teams) and a "Small A" (five teams) league. The "Small A" league is grouped with four schools in Prince George's County to form region 2. The five AA schools, with four Prince George's AA schools, form region 1.
Defense has always been a strength at Churchill (6-4). This season will be no different. Strong man Curt Curtis is back at defensive end where he made a mockery of end runs and screen pass attempts. All-Met punter Gene Dyson will double at linebacker and fullback, making the 6-foot-3, 185-pound senior a triple threat. Tony Stott is a good receiver while Ricky Lake and Mike Blair are stalwarts on the offensive line.
Coach Bob Molloy is very optimistic at Springbrook. "We're still undefeated right now."
"I thought I took a wrong turn the first day of practice," said Molloy. "I saw big guys. I never had any of them before. A new coaching experience."
The biggest and the most aggressive is linebacker Dan Lazas, who showed up with a shaven head resembling a Blue Devil Helmet.Lazas will have plenty of help on defense with linemen Chris Davis and Dan Venable and backs Peter Ott and Jim Mundy. Quarterback John Neville and tailback John Campbell are returning to lead the offense.
Whitman (10-2) will have to find some adequate replacements for its tenacious offensive line of a year ago to earn a return trip to the playoffs. The backfield sparks are back in quarterback Tim Agee, fullback Pete Manthos and All-Met kicker Erich (Magic Leg) Beringer."He does nothing else," said Whitman Coach Rich Cameron. "Just kick."
Blair (5-5) looks particularly strong on defense. That is a good thing because the offense is still enjoying its summer vacation. Gary Crosson and Tony Best will anchor an experienced defense.
Peary (6-4) will also call on its headhunters to keep folks out of the end zone until quarterback Steve Hogan engineers some scoring drives. End K. C. Keen, tackle Donnie Turner, and Paul Schwartenberg will have to make the big plays on defense.
In the Big Nine A league, Seneca Valley, which fell to earth last year after winning 31 straight games, Gaithersburg Wootton and possibly Magruder and Rockville should vie for county honors.
Gaithersburg (8-2) doesn't lose many games. This season won't be any different what with starting guards Jim DelGrosso and Tom Berger, running back Gary Owens, speed merchants receiver Chris Moreno and Joe Frazier still around to make the scoreboard light up. John Harvill isn't worried about the offense but he is still searching the halls for a few defenders. Should he find them, look for the Trojans to hang their first A title flag on the gymnasium wall.
Seneca Valley (7-3) plays swarming defensive football. The swarmers this season include Frank Buckner, Jeff Hoover, Ted Schwartzbeck and Ed Pierson up front. Coach Al Thomas will have to play at least seven players both ways and that could be a problem later on in the season. Until then, the Screaming Eagles will gobble people up.
Defending county champion Wootton (7-4) is loaded with experienced people. Quarterback Mark Boyd will call signals behind a virtually intact offensive line, bolstered by tackles Dan Cole and Lee Myers. The secondary is strong with three returnees, led by Mike Stewart.
Roy Lester, who won his share of championships while at Richard Montgomery and Paint Branch, returns to coaching at Magruder (3-7) after three years of retirement. The Colonels have a good experienced group and could give everyone a good run. Don't count them out.
Rockville (6-4) is hopeful running back Skip Dement, the biggest turnout in the school's history (127) and some players from an excellent JV add up to a few more wins and a possible title. Other seasoned players are guard Jeff Sartori, linebacker Mike Petrocino and defensive back Frank Turner.
Richard Montgomery (4-6) is finally beginning to make waves after being down for several years. Coach Alan Avery has his troops thinking win and that's half the battle won.
Bethesda-Chevy Chase (6-4) will look to fullback Bernard Johnson, quarterback Butch Mattingly and safety Robert Hetzel to carry the load until the younger players gain some experience.
Woodward (3-7) leads the area in calls for preseason scrimmages. "Two days after the practice had started, we were getting calls," said Coach Mike D'Anna. "Everyone wants a breather in a hurry." It may not be much different during the real season unless D'Anna finds a few bodies to surround superb defensive back-wide receiver Bill Plante.
Walter Johnson won only one game in 10 last year, a 7-0 decision over Einstein, which lost every game. WJ will have to improve since it is not scheduled to play Einstein this year.
Northwood (4-6), one of the stronger AA schools just two seasons ago, finds itself in the smaller five-team A division this season. Things may not be so bad, but the Indians need to find 22 starters because every starter off the '78 team left.
Wheaton (8-2) has the potential to go a long way. Leonard Frazier, Mike Murphy and Steve Bykowski will spearhead the defense, which is Wheaton's strength. The offensive line is a question mark.
Kennedy (4-6) is still seething from four close losses, all by a single point last week. Mark Robinson, John Goodwill, Robert Gates and Maurey Brown will see to it lightning doesn't strike again. They will be tough.
Linemen are a rare commodity at Paint Branch (4-6). Quarterback Greg Smarrelli and backs Bobby Patterson and Troy Pumphrey are praying coach Mickey Riggleman rustles up a few. If not, times will be hard.
Einstein has been 0-10, 2-8, 0-10 and 2-8 the last four seasons. The law of averages indicates it will be another long year.
Class B schools Damascus (4-6) and Sherwood (5-5) and the county's lone class C school, Poolesville (5-5), begin thinking state playoffs immediately. Each victory is extremely important because of the point system.
Sherwood has the best chance of getting there Eugene Lee, who scored eight times last year, quarterback Doug Rockerfeller and backs Joe Ellsberry and Bill Heeley will put Sherwood on the board. Keeping opponents off will be the job of a good secondary, captained by Ellsberry.
Damascus and Poolesville will look for help in key spots to be competitive.