At the top of a hill on Powder Mill Road in Beltsville sits High Point High School. According to local lore and it’s name, the school and the fenced-in, fully lighted-football field adjacent to it, sit at the highest point in Prince George’s County.
It’s been a long time since the football team that plays there has occupied a similar place at atop the county.
Over the past 11 seasons, the Eagles were 16-93. More recent history paints an even bleaker picture: in the seven seasons from 2006 through 2012, High Point won five games total. Over the past five seasons, the Eagles had won two.
This year, High Point is 2-0. The Eagles are off to their first 2-0 start since the late 90s, when a kid named Andre Brown donned their blue and gold.
Brown is now the head coach, the man who took the reins ahead of the 2011 season with what he told the kids was a five-year plan.
“I used to watch the papers and I kept seeing we were losing and losing and losing. And in my heart, I wanted to do something for my alma mater,” he said. “I couldn’t stand to see them keep losing.”
A couple years of bumps and some rather big bruises later (they lost games by scores of 72-0, 68-0, and 61-0 over the past few seasons), his turnaround efforts are working.
“I remember being on the sideline while Wise was beating us like 80-0 my first year. Running clock and everything, and just thinking, ‘What the hell did I get myself into?’,” Brown said. “I remember Suitland beating us 65-0, Laurel beat me 56-0 that year. And I was just thinking ‘Man, I’m the world’s worst coach.”
But Brown said kids stuck with the program, believed in the process, and saw things improve to 2-8 last season. Brown emphasized the history of the program, bringing in old teammates from the school’s winning days to talk to his players, while reminding them of that the Eagles used to occupy an annual perch at the top of the county.
“I just preach to them the pride of being an Eagle. I just remind them that they didn’t come from losers, we don’t have a losing tradition at High Point,” Brown said. “So the fact that we’re losing games doesn’t sit right with me.”
Relative improvement last season turned to deep-rooted belief in a turnaround this season when, as Brown put it, “a blessing walked right into [his] practice.”
That blessing was former Surrattsville defensive back and quarterback Dre Kates, who lives near the High Point field. Kates, who played two seasons at Indiana University, was a member of the Baltimore Ravens in training camp this season before breaking his wrist. Currently on medical contract while he rehabs, Kates was walking to his car when he saw the Eagles practicing.
“I saw them through the gate, and I said ‘let me go check them out,’” Kates said. “So I went over and watched practice…there was just something missing. So when the whole thing went down with the Ravens I said ‘Let me come out here and help.’”
Brown welcomed Kates’s experience, and the rehabbing Raven has helped overhaul the team’s lifting program and added intensity to the daily practice routine.
Kates, who works primarily with the defensive backs, has also brought something the Eagles simply hadn’t been able to get because of the team’s recent struggles: college exposure.
“The interest level has improved,” said Kates, who used some of the connections he made through his recruiting process to drum up interest. “I’ve been talking to a lot of schools. Our practices are run like a Division I practice now, we got the bullhorn out there now, everything is on time…so when the college coaches come in they can be like, ‘these kids are ready.’”
His efforts have worked. Two of his defensive backs received Football Bowl Subdivision offers this week. Ray Lyles received offers from San Jose State, Troy and Liberty, and Jalen McGill picked up offers from Toledo, Massachusetts and Football Championship Subdivision school New Hampshire.
“I’m not going to say I didn’t think I was going to get a scholarship — I thought there was a chance — but it kind of came out of the blue,” Lyles said. “It’s an overwhelming feeling.”
Brown and Kates say senior receiver Milton Madrid has also generated serious interest, and they believe several juniors will get their share of scholarship offers. They say the visibility that comes with producing college players is critical to the sustained growth of the team, which has seen a handful of new players come out and want to join with each week’s win.
The success has also affected the team’s mentality, which players say has shifted from an expectation of losing to “why not us?”
“People are saying the first two games are a fluke. People expect us to lose, I don’t like that at all,” McGill said. “We have the same chance as anyone else. Last year we used to back down against teams, but now we’re hyped to play the big teams.”
The Eagles’ toughest test so far comes tonight, when High Point hosts Eleanor Roosevelt (0-2). Roosevelt has been the victim of a grueling opening schedule, having lost games to Gwynn Park (2-0) and No. 17 Suitland (2-0), two of the region’s elite teams.
“I know Roosevelt is hungry because they’re 0-2. Watching their film, they’re not an 0-2 team. They’re a good, talented team,” Brown said. “But we’re just trying to upset the world, we want to beat them. They’re going to have to be ready for us.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 7
That’s the number of seasons since High Point’s won three games in a year, a mark they could reach tonight with a win over Roosevelt.
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– Can’t-miss matchups on the Montgomery County schedule this weekend.
– Two weeks after he was ruled ineligible, All-Met defensive back and Tennessee recruit D’Andre Payne was reinstated at H.D. Woodson and will play Friday night.
– Westfield is fired up for Friday’s visit to No. 6 Lake Braddock, where the Bulldogs will look to contain North Carolina recruit Caleb Henderson and the Bruins’ high-octane offense.
– Only days before a critical matchup with Howard County power River Hill, Atholton was forced to forfeit its Week 1 win for holding an out-of-season practice this summer.
– No. 3 Quince Orchard meets No. 14 Damascus in a battle for Montgomery County supremacy while Seneca Valley and Northwest go toe-to-toe in a big 3A clash. Your primer for those matchups is here.
– After notching wins against two Anne Arundel County contenders, Old Mill will look to topple No. 20 Meade.
– Stone Bridge and Broad Run meet once again in the ‘Battle of the Burn.’
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