The football coaches at Dunbar did not go looking for Vernon Davis to join their team four years ago. It was Davis, a young tight end, who sought out the Crimson Tide coaches.
Davis said he thought Dunbar would help him develop as a player, but he knew it would help him if he ever was in need, even if the need is food or job training.
"I was going to go to Wilson or [Theodore] Roosevelt," said Davis, who has become one of the nation's most highly recruited high school tight ends. "But I begged my [grandmother] to go to Dunbar. I knew that might be the best place for me. The coaches had never seen me play in middle school, but I knew about them. I wanted to be a part of that team."
There are other young football players similar to Davis throughout the District, players who want to contribute to and reap the benefits of the Dunbar program.
"There is no doubt they get the talent and that comes from winning," Ballou Coach Noel Cyrus said. "But at the same time, you have to develop it and that is what has allowed them to keep the 39-game league winning streak going."
Today, Dunbar will try to continue that streak against No. 10 H.D. Woodson in the Turkey Bowl. A victory would make the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide the first D.C. Interscholastic Athletic Association team to win five consecutive city titles.
Head coach Craig Jefferies and his staff have established a program that has garnered respect -- and envy -- from high school coaches across the river in Anacostia and as far away as Pennsylvania.
"They've got a great program," said Cyrus, whose Knights lost to Dunbar in the 2000 title game. "The first step is that the kids are well-coached. But the staff pays a lot of attention to the little things that helps them get there. Their players are extremely close and are willing to do what it takes to win. That's what we're trying to do."
Jefferies keeps his players together through a rigorous training program that consists of twice-weekly weightlifting sessions in the offseason. Nearly 90 percent of the Crimson Tide players participate.
Once the summer hits, the players see even more of each other. In addition to gathering in the weight room, they spend all day in the city's youth employment program, which uses Dunbar as one of its sites. The players also participate in several passing leagues and attend clinics throughout the area.
The strength of Dunbar players distinguishes them from other District teams, said Earl Mosley, the coach at Harrisburg (Pa.), whose team lost its season opener to the Crimson Tide, 39-0. Mosley faced DCIAA teams such as Spingarn and Anacostia when he was a high school player.
Jefferies also wants his players to establish strong relationships so that they are willing to trust each other on the field. He established a chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization, and many of his players attend its weekly after-school sessions.
"This team is humble and spiritual," sophomore wide receiver Marcelle Stover said.
Before the start of the season, nearly the entire Dunbar team travels for a four-day minicamp at Camp Letts in Edgewater, Md. "We spend so much time together," junior running back Ashley Maynard said. "We've become one big family. We have one section in the lunchroom where we eat with each other every day."
Jefferies noticed two years ago that some children got food from their parents after games while others went hungry. And he often noticed players looking light-headed on the sidelines during games because they had not eaten that day.
"It's something that all of us experience," said Cyrus, who often makes a trip to the supermarket to purchase fruit for the kids before a game. "Good coaches pay attention to that and try to find a solution. It helps the team when you have that kind of support network."
Dunbar's solution was to sign up parents to provide game-day lunches for each player, a bag that includes a sandwich, water and a cookie. The school feeds the players breakfast on the mornings of Saturday games.
Long before the players shared breakfast or bus rides to Pennsylvania or Ohio, they were scouted by Dunbar coaches. The Crimson Tide keeps a close watch on the city's youth and middle school teams.
Maynard played one season in middle school but said he had no intention of playing high school football. However, the Crimson Tide coaches convinced him to come to Dunbar.
"They took a chance on me," said Maynard, the team's leading rusher with 1,084 yards on 100 carries and 14 touchdowns. "Because we have a coach for every position, they have helped me develop into the player I am today. They are constantly working to make sure the legacy continues."