The noon sun lit up the huddle at the center of the Forestville football field and revealed nothing remarkable, other than part of that huddle looked to be missing.
No undersized underclassmen poked up around teammates’ shoulders to get a better look at coach Charles Harley, and “hands in” for the break actually meant hands in — not the usual “hands toward the middle” necessitated by more crowded post-practice gatherings.
There was no need to make room as the Knights gathered around Harley last week, because there aren’t many Knights to gather. As usual, Forestville will be one of the smallest teams in Prince George’s County this year. As usual, the Knights are planning to win anyway.
They did it last year, posting an 8-3 season that ended with a four-point loss to Sparrows Point in the Maryland 1A playoffs. They’ve won every year recently, with a .500-or-better record in every season since 2001.
Despite a varsity roster often populated by fewer than 30 players, the Knights keep pace with teams from much bigger 3A and 2A schools in their composite league. Last year, Forestville only lost to one of those schools from higher classifications with less elbow room on their sidelines.
“We make no excuses for each other,” senior Larry Powell said. “The coaches and players. We work hard every day, and we have to condition more because we have less players.”
“We run a lot,” he added. “We run every day.”
Running a lot? Typical off-season stuff for determined high school football teams with something to prove. But you could see memories of long runs and everlasting sprint workouts in the way Powell and his teammates Antoine McCray and Marcel Toran smiled and shook their heads when he mentioned it.
Offense and defense are both in the job description for almost everyone on the Knights’ roster, so they train to play both. This year’s Forestville team is loaded with speed, Harley says, on the outside, in the backfield, and even at quarterback, where junior James Green will take over for his first season under center.
“It should be a track meet a lot of weeks,” Harley said. “James ran a 4.43 at the Maryland camp, and he can dunk a basketball flat-footed at 5-10. So we’ve got all the athleticism.”
Forestville lost leaders like standout defensive back Marcel Joly, now playing at Iowa, including its three leading rushers. But two of the Knights’ top receivers from 2013 are back, and Harley said he thinks he’s got plenty of legs at every key position. Keeping those legs healthy on such a small team, then, becomes a huge factor.
“We’re really good in certain places, but one injury can tip the scales the other way,” Harley said. “Hopefully we can stay healthy. That’s the biggest thing for us.”
Defense will be a more controllable priority for Harley and the Knights. Last year, they shut out opponents four times in 11 games, including a stretch of three straight. They allowed six points or fewer in six of eleven games, including their first five in a row. The health of that defense will determine how far Forestville goes against the bigger teams from the rest of the county.
“You would think it helps us [for playoffs], and it does, but we kind of get beat up,” Harley said. “We go in with our 25, they play with their 38. At this point, it is what it is, and I don’t even think about it anymore.”
Full coverage: 2014 Football season preview