A year ago, Marshall High School Coach Neil Callahan knew his team was in trouble. With only one offensive lineman weighing 200 pounds and a couple of tiny tailbacks who together might do the work of one fullback, Callahan decided to scrap his I-formation offense.

"No way could we run out of the I-formation," Callahan said. "We still had decent athletes, so we gambled on another offense and it came out okay."

The Statesmen were more than okay in 1986. Working out of the Wing-T, quarterback Lonnie Goldberg, 5-foot-4, 150-pound Carroll Smith, and 5-9, 170-pound John Robb suddenly became big players. They carried Marshall to the Virginia state semifinals, where it lost to Salem, 14-6.

But as Callahan and his players prepare for another season, they know the element of surprise no longer is in their favor.

"That offense made good coaches out of all of us. No one out here had used the Wing in a few years and it was sort of new to everyone," said Callahan, whose team finished 10-3. "We still have speed but we sure won't catch anyone by surprise this season. Now we are everyone's big game. But we have a good group of kids back and we can work on improving what we did last year."

Marshall, five-time Northern District defending champion T.C. Williams, Northern Region finalist Mount Vernon, Annandale (helped immensely by the addition of the Jefferson students after that school was converted to high-tech) and Edison (which won the first Division II AAA title last season) appear to be the class of the region.

"We feel we should be pretty good," Callahan said. "We'll know for sure after our first three games."

The regular season opens Sept. 4 and Marshall isn't the only area team looking forward to getting started.

DeMatha, the top-ranked team in the area last year, lost a number of its top athletes. But Coach Bill McGregor, whose Metro Conference champion finished 10-0 in 1986, still has outstanding talent in linemen Don Davis and Garland Hawkins, fullback Phil Bryant (an All-Met heavyweight wrestler) and linebacker Bubba Chroninger.

McGregor was in midseason form this week as he sent his players through two-a-day workouts.

"Come on son, you have to make the play. I'm losing patience with you," he yelled to a defensive player who failed to make a tackle.

But McGregor said overall he has been pleased with his team's efforts over the past two weeks.

"The attitude of the kids has been the key. They are working hard and I feel, when we get a bit of depth, we can be very good," said McGregor, who will have a better assessment of his team after tonight's scrimmage with H.D. Woodson and West Springfield.

"Our conference will be tough again," McGregor said. "Carroll and {Coach} Maus {Collins} will be very tough, McNamara is going to be very good and Gonzaga is much improved. I'm not picking us to finish fourth, though."

DeMatha is one of a handful of teams that will begin the season with a long winning streak. Maryland Class B champion Lackey has the area's longest streak at 14. Interstate Athletic Conference champion Georgetown Prep has won 13 straight games, Maryland A champion Magruder 12, Maryland AA winner Gaithersburg 11, DeMatha 10 and Interhigh League champion Coolidge nine.

Gwynn Park and North Stafford share the area's longest losing streak -- 12.

H.D. Woodson lost its last game last season -- the Interhigh championship -- to Coolidge, 32-15. But Woodson Coach Bob Headen predicts his team will begin a winning streak immediately and go on to win the Interhigh East Division.

"I don't have the big people I used to have, but most of my skill people are back," Headen said. "Quarterback Henderson Mosley, running back Darryl Hughely, end Rodney Hounshell, punter William Woodard and lineman Orlando Brown are quality guys."

One of Woodson's main division rivals, Anacostia, opens its season tonight at Pulaski County. Coach Willie Stewart, looking for an early test and a few extra dollars to put in the Anacostia football fund, always opts to play a tough team early. Pulaski County drilled Anacostia, 38-6, last year.

Elsewhere around the area, many teams are scurrying about trying to rebuild. Maryland realigned its leagues, upsetting a few coaches, pleasing a few others.

"We don't know much about a couple of schools who dropped down in class," said Forestville Coach Eric Knight, whose team finished 11-1 and lost in the Maryland Class B final last season. "Laurel and DuVal {and Bladensburg} dropped from AA to A {the Prince George's AB schools are in one league} and I have to think they will be competitive with us and Fairmont Heights."

Forestville will call on All-Met receiver Leslie Shepherd to do even more than he did last year. In addition to his pass-catching duties, the 6-foot, 180-pound senior will play free safety, return kicks, punt and place kick.

In Montgomery County, Einstein and Walter Johnson moved up from Class A to Class AA, putting 13 schools in that division.