TO OUR READERS
This is the first of three days in which we identify key players in the Washington area who will lead their teams into football playoff games this weekend.
Today: Defensive players
Friday: Offensive players
Saturday: The DCIAA and WCAC
THE PLAYER: SYDNEY BASKINS, SUITLAND
POSITIONS: Middle linebacker and offensive guard.
WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE TEAM: Made successful switch from defensive tackle to linebacker. He is quick to react to the ball and anchors a defense that led the Rams to their third consecutive playoff berth. An imposing force on defense who causes opponents to adjust schemes to try to block him.
"You can see the progression he has made from Week One until now, his lateral movement from side to side," Suitland Coach Nick Lynch said. "And he has that aggressive motor to get to the football."
KEY STATISTICS: Finished the season with 180 tackles. Led Rams to third consecutive Prince George's 4A championship. Suitland allowed just 8.3 points per game. Led by Baskins, the Rams held Roosevelt (37.8 points per game) to a season-low point total in their 23-7 victory on Oct. 9.
-- Josh Barr
No. 15 Suitland (8-2) at No. 9 Eleanor Roosevelt (9-1)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
OUTLOOK: A matchup of the most prolific offense against the stingiest defense in Prince George's County. Roosevelt scored more than 30 points eight times and failed to score at least 24 just once -- in its 23-7 loss to Suitland on Oct. 9.
Roosevelt's offense is centered around running back Edwin Rios, who rushed for 1,209 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Rios, a junior, is a big-play threat who had several long touchdown runs. Quarterback Wendall Williams has been a streaky passer. Wide receiver Jermaine Ennis is Williams's favorite target.
Suitland's defense is led by linebacker Sydney Baskins. The challenge will be for Suitland to play as well as it did in its earlier victory over Roosevelt.
Rams quarterback Duane Smith, a 5-foot-6, 130-pound sophomore, has shown the ability to make some plays but struggled in last week's 7-0 victory over Northwestern.
Roosevelt averaged 37.8 points per game during the regular season. Suitland, which had never made the playoffs prior to 1997, is 31-5 over the past three seasons. Rios averaged 9.3 yards per carry and 16.4 yards per reception.
-- Josh Barr
THE PLAYER: JOE LARSON, PARK VIEW
POSITIONS: Defensive line and linebacker.
WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE TEAM: Larson is the team's most complete player. He is a standout tight end who runs the 40-yard dash in 4.6 seconds and is capable of playing several defensive positions.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound senior did not start on defense during the regular season, but Coach Mickey Thompson said Larson's role will be greater when the playoffs begin this weekend.
"He's the best all-around player I've ever coached," said Thompson, who has coached at Park View for 15 seasons. "His size and speed makes him very unique."
Thompson moved Larson from defensive tackle to linebacker late in the season and may start him there Friday. On offense, Larson is a tight end and blocking back.
KEY STATISTICS: Larson led the team in sacks (four) and fumble recoveries (two) and was second in quarterback hurries (four) and fumble recoveries (two).
-- Tarik El-Bashir
Loudoun County (7-3) at Park View (10-0)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 1:30p.m.
OUTLOOK: These teams have some history between them, most of it made Oct. 29 in Park View's 35-7 victory over Loudoun County. Park View racked up 227 yards and at one point led 28-0. Loudoun County is counting on its defense -- led by cornerback Chris Hughes, who has six interceptions. In the final regular season game -- a 17-7 victory over Loudoun Valley last week -- Hughes, a running back and cornerback, contributed on offense and defense. He is one of the team's eight two-way players.
Loudoun County, which finished third in the AAA Northwestern District, will have to find a way to stop Park View, which has one of the top offenses in the Washington region. The Patriots, led by quarterback Nick Smith and running back Nelson Stickley, have scored an area-high 404 points this season while allowing 46. Smith has passed for 1,138 yards and 19 touchdowns, and Stickley has carried 132 times for 1,065 yards and 12 touchdowns. Park View moved from the AAA Liberty District to the AA Northwestern District and won the league title for the second straight season.
-- Jon Gallo
THE PLAYER: JAMES LYNCH, DUNBAR
POSITIONS: Outside linebacker and fullback.
WHAT HE BRINGS TO THE TEAM: Lynch is the vocal leader of Dunbar's defense, which was the key to last season's D.C. Interscholastic Association's championship team. He has a combination of speed, smarts and strength, which helps him sniff out the ball and make big tackles.
"It's my job to tell my teammates what's coming," he said. "Because I play offense too, I have an advantage. I know what's coming by the way the offense sets up."
Lynch is also a talented fullback, the position he prefers and hopes to play in college. He carried 15 times for 103 yards and three touchdowns last week as Dunbar defeated Wilson, 36-26, to win a second straight DCIAA West title.
"He's been recruited as a linebacker, but his first love is fullback," said Dunbar Coach Craig Jeffries. "He has good instincts as a linebacker. "You can't fool him twice on the same play."
KEY STATISTICS: Lynch has rushed for 1,074 yards on 150 carries this season and has 12 touchdowns.
-- Tarik El-Bashir
Dunbar (6-3-1) vs. H.D. Woodson (8-1) at Cardozo
KICKOFF: Saturday, 2 p.m.
OUTLOOK: Defending D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association champion Dunbar will play H.D. Woodson for the right to advance to the Turkey Bowl, the league's title game.
Dunbar, which won the West Division title last week, has the league's most prolific offense, which is centered around three seniors -- quarterback Michael Coles, fullback-outside linebacker James Lynch and wide receiver Steven Savoy. Coles has thrown for 779 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. Savoy, Coles's favorite target, leads the DCIAA with 50 catches for 670 yards and eight touchdowns.
When Coles isn't throwing the ball, he's handing it off to Lynch, a bruising 6-foot, 240-pound fullback with breakaway speed. Lynch scored against Wilson three times in a 36-26 victory last week to help clinch the division title.
H.D. Woodson is led by running back Keon Coleman, who has rushed for 1,693 yards and 15 touchdowns on 154 carries. The Warriors also can move the ball through the air as quarterback Maurice Moore has thrown for 803 yards with nine touchdowns and four interceptions. The Warriors' top receiver is senior Howard Gilmore, who is most effective across the middle. Gilmore has caught 29 passes for 482 yards.
-- Jon Gallo