Coming into this season with 19 players, the Maret football team knew it would be tight on numbers. Then the Frogs’ center dislocated his shoulder during warmups for the season opener, and Coach Mike Engelberg and his (very few) players realized they were in for an interesting season.
They just didn’t know how interesting.
Three more starters fell victim to injury over the team’s first three games, meaning by the time the Frogs (3-1) traveled to Middletown, Delaware for a game with St. Andrew’s last Saturday — the school where the movie Dead Poet’s Society was filmed — they had a whole lot of extra space on the bus.
“We had three, two-way starters out with injuries. We had 16 kids dressed out — freshmen, seniors, everybody,” Engelberg said. “At one point in the fourth quarter, one of our linemen got hurt. Then a few minutes later, another lineman got hurt. At one point in the fourth quarter we were down to 14 kids.”
But as they have in three of four games this season, the Frogs pulled it off. Maret rallied from a 22-10 deficit in the third quarter to snatch a 23-22 win over a St. Andrew’s team that dressed 10 more players and stayed healthier. That win came a week after the Frogs made a goal line stand in the closing seconds to earn a 10-8 win over Theodore Roosevelt.
“The whole thing about our season is if more than four guys get hurt now, we really can’t play. We really just are trying to play each game as our last,” Frogs senior lineman Jeremy Zeitler said. “I personally think it might’ve been a blessing to have this few people because it creates such a tight connection between our team.”
While the numbers may be a team chemist’s blessing, they’re certainly a challenge for Engelberg and his staff when it comes to practice planning. The Frogs have had to adapt their approach to practice, not just because of the limitations created by the low numbers, but in order to preserve them.
“We basically have had to eliminate contact from our practices as much as we can. We just focus on fundamentals. We do everything on bags, dummies to do everything we can to protect our guys from ourselves,” Engelberg said. “We pretty much do every drill you could ever do on a tackling dummy and a bag.”
Engelberg said the Frogs have never been able to practice 11-on-11, and try to compensate in part by watching “a ton” of film.
“I think that’s why the first quarter of games are always a little bit shaky. While other teams have been doing scout team all week, our kids, when they get in the game, that’s the first time they’ve seen the play run with a live look,” Engelberg said. “We just try to put them in situations where they know what to expect.”
When an injury usually means the creation of a hole in the offensive and defensive lineups, Frogs’ players have learned to expect any and all lineup scenarios, and therefore have learned the value of versatility.
Because of injuries to the team’s center and a tackle, for example, the Frogs are down to five linemen, the minimum needed for an offensive line. So any time a lineman goes down — even for just a play — Maret has lineman pads ready on the sideline for one of its receivers, who rushes over, puts them on, and takes the spot.
Zeitler, an all-MAC defensive end who’s hoping to earn a Football Bowl Subdivision offer, believes that versatility born of necessity makes he and his teammates more well-rounded players with better understandings of the game.
“In some ways, it’s good because you don’t just get acquainted with that one position,” he said. “It helps strengthen our depth as players, as well.”
Engelberg and Zeitler now set their sights on the MAC schedule, in which one loss often dooms conference championship hopes. Flint Hill (1-3) and its 45-man roster and the Potomac School (4-0) and its 39-man squad, loom large on the Frogs’ schedule. The same is true of 34-man Sidwell Friends (1-2), Maret’s opponent this weekend.
“It’s sort of like a Spartan, 300-type situation,” Zeitler said. “And when we go up against teams like Potomac and Flint Hill, we hope we can show how much we really want it. And we really do want it. We’re trying to show people we can do this.”
NUMBER CRUNCH: 65
The number of players on the roster of The Post’s current No. 1 team, DeMatha.
– In a key IAC boys’ soccer matchup, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes bested Landon last night.
– B-CC girls’ soccer may be having some trouble scoring this season, but they have no trouble winning. Check out a photo gallery from the game below.
– On a winning day for St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes’ sports, the No. 7 Saints field hockey team bounced back against Georgetown Visitation.
– Jefferson senior Julie Luo finished strong at Forest Greens Club to claim the 5A North region golf title and earn a spot in the 5A/6A state tournament in Richmond.
PHOTOS OF THE DAY:
VIDEO OF THE DAY:
Check out the top plays in D.C.-area high school football last week:
WHAT TO WATCH TODAY:
Volleyball: No. 1 Flint Hill at No. 7 Paul VI, 6:30 p.m.
The second-ranked Huskies (13-1) could face their toughest area test to date when they visit the red-hot Panthers. Led by explosive outside hitter Ally Ford (82 kills), Flint Hill has dropped just five sets all season, but the Huskies will be looking to bounce back from a 2-0 tournament loss to Nansemond-Suffolk last week. Meantime Paul VI (12-1) has bullied its way to the top of the WCAC standings and takes a nine-match winning streak into tonight’s contest.