Quince Orchard’s Elliott Davis will be a key returnee for the Cougars this fall. (Doug Kapustin/For The Washington Post)

Quince Orchard’s Kevin Joppy and Adam McLean slowly walked up the small hill between the locker room and practice field, exhausted from having just finished their first-ever official practice as Cougars. McLean has been getting comfortable since transferring to the Gaithersburg school from Friendship Collegiate during the winter.

But Joppy, the former Seneca Valley star, just joined the program in mid-July. And he admitted Wednesday that he is still learning not only the new complex system at the school, but also the standard of expectations the program holds.

“It’s a lot different. I love it here. They make me feel real comfortable,” Joppy said. “Everything’s quick.”

Joppy, who accounted for 830 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver and running back a year ago, transferred after his family moved closer to the Gaithersburg school this summer, he said. He’s still learning the fast-pace system of Quince Orchard’s offense, which revolves around the no-huddle and reading signals from the sidelines.

Kevin Joppy, seen here as a member of Seneca Valley last season, transferred to Quince Orchard over the summer. (Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post) Kevin Joppy, seen here as a member of Seneca Valley last season, transferred to Quince Orchard over the summer. (Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post)

Quince Orchard is just happy to have him, and McLean for that matter. But the two transfers are only the latest additions to a loaded team determined to make a third straight trip to the Maryland 4A state championship at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

That has been the site of two excruciating losses in the title game the past two seasons (including last year’s 12-7 loss to Wise), but with a core of starters back from a year ago, the program hopes to break through in 2013.

Senior quarterback Mike Murtaugh, who tore his ACL in the third game of the season last year, is back and fully healthy. His rehabilitation was brutal, he said, beginning with the recovery from surgery last October and the ensuing months of physical therapy.

“It’s devastating. Just to have to come back from that, its hard. Going through the rehab and all,” Murtaugh said. “But the guys on the team helped me through it, the coaches helped me through it. I’m happy where I am.”

A healthy Murtaugh brings back a classic passing attack for Coach Dave Mencarini, who plugged in wide reciever convert Matt Choi at quarterback last fall and relied heavily on the running game. Murtaugh will have plenty of talent at the skills positions; in addition to Joppy, the Cougars return Elliott Davis, Malcolm Brown and Kyle Gregory, all college prospects who will double-down as defensive backs.

“It makes my life easier, just having that talent out there,” Murtaugh said.

Mencarini and the rest of the coaching staff ran a full three-hour practice Wednesday afternoon, which was drawn to a close with wave after wave of conditioning. The running was met with a cool wind, prompting one of Mencarini’s assistants to bellow at the kids: “This is the easiest first day of practice you’ll ever have.”

The quest to get back to the state championship was fully on at that point, and new terminology and pressure aside, Joppy is embracing his new colors.

“When I got here, I was a little nervous because I have to, like, learn a new system all over again,” he said. “But I’m learning it. They’re working with me.”

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