Every year, there’s a Friday about midway through the football season that decides the fate of players teetering on the edge of academic ineligibility. Students have early dismissal, and teachers stay later to put together grades and interim reports.

In 2011 — Coach Rick Sneade’s first year at Calvert — the Cavaliers had four players deemed ineligible after that Friday. Last year it was two.

Sneade and his staff spent the interim distribution days of years past scrambling to get students to finish makeup work. But on Oct. 3 of this fall, the team was able to relax and watch a movie together. No players dropped from Sneade’s 35-man varsity roster this season after interim reports.

Instead, two students who had raised their grades were allowed to rejoin the squad. Both made significant contributions in Calvert’s overtime win at McDonough on Friday.

“We always started with great kids, but now they’re definitely buying in and trying to see what more they can do for others,” Sneade said. “So even if you’re not necessarily winning all your games, you can hang your hat on that these kids leave Calvert High as quality young men.”

Host B.J. Koubaroulis runs through the top plays from the weekend of football in D.C., Maryland and Virginia. (Nick Plum for Synthesis/Koubaroulis LLC./The Washington Post)

The players didn’t do much except for go to practice and games before Sneade came on board, senior offensive guard/linebacker Michael Harley said.

Now they are being pushed to focus on grades, participate in community service and spend one day a week devoted to education from “A Football Journey,” a hands-on curriculum designed specifically for high school players to “motivate and inspire greatness on and off the field.” The program has 10 fall lessons for each grade level to appeal to athletes at each year in high school.

“It’s interesting to watch and see how it’s not just us going through it, there’s other people going through it too,” Harley said of the “Football Journey” videos. “You see people going through high school, dealing with grades, seeing how people come out of high school.”

The difference in the team and school is palpable. Teachers and staff who have been at the Prince Frederick school for years have noted the improving climate and culture in the hallways. Sneade doesn’t know whether that’s a testament to his work with the football team or changing times, but Harley maintains that the team has gained more respect from peers and teachers in recent years.

Some of the current players wouldn’t be there if not for the pressure from the coaching staff to maintain their grades, Harley said. The team has begun to realize that to get on the field, you need to get the grade.

The Cavaliers (3-5, 2-5 Southern Maryland Athletic Conference) are working to reestablish their identity in the conference. A state title in 2000 distinguished Calvert as the only team in Calvert County to win a championship, but the Cavaliers went 17-43 from 2004-2010, Sneade said.

And despite predictions as the “dark horse” of the conference from several coaches, Calvert has struggled to overcome youth (three freshmen and three sophomores on varsity) and inexperience (two of the 12 seniors never played football before this season). The team went 1-4 in its first five games.

A homecoming win against Allegany snapped the losing streak. The Cavaliers lost the next game to Northern (4-4) in Week 7, but fought back after letting up 37 points in the first half to outscore the Patriots after halftime.

Calvert was down by 14 at halftime again on Friday against McDonough (1-7). But a crucial blocked punt and recovery by defensive back MJ Wallace put the Cavaliers on the board in the third quarter, and Wallace tied the game in the last seven minutes with a 17-yard touchdown run. The go-ahead touchdown in overtime came from a one-yard quarterback sneak by junior Dakota Greening.

“If you think about it, coming into Week 8, our kids could have laid down and gotten demoralized,” Sneade said. “They bounced back and showed a lot of heart. I tell the seniors that they need to play for something more, to bring this program into a higher level of play, and for these younger guys, they’re building for next year and years to come.

“We have to go out there and play for that every week, no matter what the record is.”

Howard County roundup

Atholton (1-7) secured its first win of the season with a 21-14 homecoming victory against Mount Hebron (2-6). Senior running back Isaac Murray contributed 83 rushing yards and a touchdown and caught five passes for 119 yards, including one 80-yard reception and the go-ahead touchdown.

Howard (6-2) continued its playoff push with a 26-7 win at Hammond (5-3), who was unable to capitalize on the momentum from an upset of No. 13 River Hill (7-1) in Week 7. Senior running back Terrell Charles had 33 carries for 253 yards and three touchdowns for the Lions.