With that in mind, here are 10 things to watch for in Maryland and the District this year.
1) Northwest eyeing three-peat: Quarterback Mark Pierce has been the heart of the high-powered Jaguars offense ever since taking over as starter in 2013, guiding the team to back-to-back Maryland 4A state titles. The senior is back for a final season, but little remains from last year’s pass attack. If Pierce is up to that challenge, Northwest could become the first Montgomery County team to pull off the three-peat since Seneca Valley (1997-99).
2) What’s next for Douglass: The Eagles put together one of the most dominant championship seasons in Maryland high school football history to finish atop the final Washington Post poll for the first time, so how do they follow that up? Douglass must replace some key parts from its stellar defense, particularly in the secondary, and this year’s schedule is tougher with season-opening games against Wise and Riverdale Baptist and a rivalry matchup at division rival Gwynn Park. But senior quarterback Devin Butler is back and there are enough returning veterans to make a fourth trip to the Maryland 2A state final in five years a possibility. Potomac (Md.), which faces Douglass on Oct. 24, should also be a factor in the standings.
3) Friday night lights in Prince George’s: With a new turf field and stadium lights, Wise will usher in a new era of Maryland 4A football in a county accustomed to Saturday afternoon starts. The Pumas feature the FBS-bound cornerback duo of Damon Hayes (Rutgers) and Myles Wolfolk (Virginia Tech), but DuVal All-Met Antoine Brooks, who plays both quarterback and defensive back, is one of the best two-way players in the area and Eleanor Roosevelt should contend again as well.
6) Damascus dominance: The Swarmin’ Hornets are a perennial contender, and this season they just might have enough to win their first state title since 2007. Jake Funk returns to the backfield for his senior season after leading Damascus to a 13-1 campaign that ended with a crushing loss to Franklin in the Maryland 3A championship game. The two-way star also helped guide a dominant defense that shut down its Montgomery County competition and kept all but one of its opponents – Franklin – under 16 points.
7) Who will rise to the top in Howard: River Hill was long the county’s cream of the crop, winning four state titles since 2007, but Howard used a dominant defense to win the league and march to the Maryland 4A state semifinals last fall. With senior quarterback Noah Thyberg back, the Hawks could be poised to reclaim county supremacy. But Howard, Glenelg — which beat River Hill in the Maryland 3A East region title game last year — and a dangerous Oakland Mills team stand in their way.
8) Keep your eye on the ball in the SMAC. Thomas Stone rode All-Met Defensive Player of the Year Juwuan Briscoe and a bevy of capable ball-carriers to the state semifinals last fall, but the Cougars graduated the majority of their starters. Like Stone, several other county contenders rely on the double and triple-option, where backfield deception is paramount. North Point and Patuxent can play that game, but both also like to spread it out on occasion. With Perrin Turner in the backfield, the Eagles could be the favorites, followed by Stone, Patuxent and Huntingtown. Chopticon, which had a breakthrough campaign last fall with one of the league’s best passing attacks, will need to replace its top weapons to stack up with the rest.
10) Private power: Bullis, Riverdale Baptist and St. Mary’s Ryken have emerged in recent years as intriguing private school teams outside of the traditional powers and all three could be on the cusp of historic seasons. The Bulldogs, led by ballyhooed Maryland quarterback recruit Dwayne Haskins, are coming off two-straight Interstate Athletic Conference titles and might have more talent than ever. The Crusaders, who will compete as an independent, and new Washington Catholic Athletic Conference member St. Mary’s Ryken each return veteran-laden lineups that feature multiple college prospects.