During this past offseason, the Dunbar coaching staff reviewed film of senior quarterback Lamel Matthews and came to two conclusions: He had trouble identifying defenses at the line of scrimmage, and his footwork was way too slow.
So far this fall, Matthews has demonstrated improvement on both fronts and, consequently, has led Dunbar to a 4-0 start. Matthews completed 13 of 19 passes for 219 yards and a touchdown during the Crimson Tide’s 35-7 win Friday at Jefferson (W.Va.). On the season, Matthews has completed 63.6 percent of his passes for 718 yards and seven touchdowns. He also has rushed for 295 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries.
Matthews has thrown two interceptions this season, and one of them came on a Hail Mary attempt.
“So really, he’s playing mistake-free football,” Dunbar Coach Jerron Joe said. “He’s developing in my offense pretty well. He’s doing very well, actually.”
Fortunately for Matthews – and for Joe, for that matter – the Crimson Tide coaching staff includes two assistants that are well-versed in quarterback skills.
Stadford Brown, the team’s offensive coordinator, played quarterback at Dunbar and at Division II North Carolina Central, where he was named CIAA Offensive Player of the Year as a freshman in 2006. Todd Amis, Dunbar’s quarterbacks coach, tutored several successful quarterbacks, including Emmanuel Yeager, during his time as an assistant at Ballou.
Joe said the overriding philosophy utilized by Brown and Amis is that a quarterback is only as good as his feet, not his arm. With that in mind, they put Matthews through a number of footwork drills this summer with the intention of solving what Joe described as Matthews’s “lazy” drop-backs in the pocket.
Dunbar will need Matthews’s stretch of impressive play to continue Friday when the Crimson Tide plays at No. 5 DeMatha. A solid performance against the Stags (3-0) only would contribute to the haul of scholarship offers Joe said he anticipates will flow Matthews’s way once the player becomes an academic qualifier. Matthews is scheduled to take the SAT on Oct. 6.
“Once [Matthews] takes the test and gets the scores, his offers should start piling in,” Joe said. “A lot of schools are showing interest. They’re just waiting for his scores to come in.”
Despite a number of Division I-bound linebackers, a spark was missing. “We needed some more attackers closer to the line of scrimmage that can play like a Dorian O’Daniel, Akeem Hebron, that Jelani Jenkins-type,” defensive line coach Kevin McFadden said.
The decision was to move defensive back C.J. Jones to outside linebacker. The results have been tremendous. Jones leads or shares the lead for sacks (two), tackles for loss (five) and pass break ups (two) and is among the leaders in tackles (10) and assists (nine).
“I was kind of upset that I was changing positions because it was a position I never played before,” Jones said. “I talked to the coaches and said I had a lot of things to learn. . . . After everything started and I learned some new stuff, I got better with what I was doing.”
Jones said linebackers Marcel Ngachie and Darien Carr helped him in his transition, and it didn’t take long for Jones to see the payoff. Against Gilman on Aug. 31, the plays started to come to him, he said.
“I was nervous before,” Jones said. “I didn’t know how I was going to play. As the game started going I started making plays and I was like, ‘Hey, I started getting used to this position.’”
The Falcons especially benefited last week with O’Daniel out resting some bumps and bruises. And with a tough Washington Catholic Athletic Conference slate ahead — beginning with a Saturday game at No. 19 Gonzaga (3-1) — Jones figures to be a major factor for the Falcons moving forward.
“He didn’t bicker, didn’t talk about the program, didn’t start quitting,” McFadden said. “He just took his [orders], came back out with a plan of attack and he’s rolling, man. It shows how you can overcome adversity.”
After going 1-8 in his first season as head coach at St. Stephens/St. Agnes, Bernard Joseph designed a different weekly schedule for his program heading into the 2012 season. Teams from around the region, he said, were viewing the Saints as an easy win a year ago, and to change that stigma, he needed his players to buy into a new system that promised new results.
So on Thursday afternoons, while other schools are typically running walk-through practices in preparation for weekend games, the Saints are indoors, in a room on campus taking an hour-long yoga session. No football, just meditation and relaxation, together. And Joseph believes it has been a major factor in the Saints’ surprising 3-0 start, not only cutting down on the cramping and injuries that snuck up on St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes a year ago, but also changing the way his program carries itself mentally on game day.
“I think its helped. We’re not cramping up as much, the kids are getting a little more flexible...I think its great for the school community,” Joseph said.
Joseph has had no problems persuading his players to buy into the yoga classes, and much of that is due to Darius Manora, who started yoga at the school a year ago and has led by example.
Manora’s play on the field has done plenty of talking as well. In Saturday’s 57-27 win over Bishop Ireton, the senior running back had 255 yards rushing and four touchdowns in what Joseph calls “one of the single most outstanding performances by a high school player I’ve ever seen.” Manora had touchdown runs of 60, 57, 68 and 26, and he also recorded an 80-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. It was Manora’s second pick of the day, and his fourth of the season from his defensive back position.
“It’s been a long way coming, getting these guys the confidence over the past two years,” said Manora, a 4.2 GPA student who is drawing interest from all the Ivy League schools and the Naval Academy, among others. “I had a great game thanks to my guys up front, the freshmen lineman.”
The Saints are starting four freshman on the line - which could be the team’s greatest liability and its greatest asset. Joseph knows the front will be challenged in the weeks to come as the competition stiffens - the Saints play defending MAC champion Potomac School next week - but the atmosphere has changed this fall at St. Stephen’s/St. Agnes, and the future is bright.
“I’m very optimistic about the future. It’s funny, because we’re building it with lineman. Normally, that’s the toughest part to build on,” Joseph said.“What I don't think, is that people can line up against us and feel like they have a victory because they’re playing St. Stephens.”
Bullis (3-0) continued to display its offensive prowess in Saturday’s 34-13 win over St. Mary’s-Annapolis, as quarterback Danny Copeland threw for 252 yards and three touchdowns, while sophomore running back Devonte Williams added 96 yards and a score on 11 carries. Senior wide receiver Nick Fields recorded five catches for 92 yards and a 55-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. . . .
Landon dropped its first game of the season, 24-14 to Baltimore’s Mount St. Joseph. Landon’s Philip Pena, who led the team in both passing (110 yards) and rushing (61 yards), scored the games first touchdown, but Mount St. Joseph’s reeled off 24 unanswered points to take control. Landon starting running back Myles Allen did not play for the second consecutive game due to injury...
St. Albans is in the win column for the first time in 2012 after beating Riverdale Baptist 34-8. The Bulldogs scored in all three phases, which included a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown by defensive back Chris Fraser in the first quarter Saturday. St. Albans quarterback Mike McCurdy threw for 235 yards and two touchdowns on just seven completions in the win. . . .
Episcopal won its season opener Saturday, thanks in large part to a defensive effort that kept Flint Hill starting quarterback Stevie Peterson in check. After throwing for 266 yards a week ago against Paul VI Catholic, Peterson was just 7 for 18 for 73 yards and threw an interception.
While Flint Hill went down in nonconference action, so did defending MAC champ Potomac School, which lost, 49-13, to Paul VI Catholic. Potomac School Coach Pat Duffy said following the loss that tackling is a major issue for his team early in the season - the Panthers allowed 310 yards rushing on Saturday, which Duffy said was a by-product of missed tackles and poor angles on defense...
Maret (3-0) continued its hot start with with a 42-7 win over Randolph Macon on Saturday. Defensive end and tight end Tre Bowens’s stock is only going to continue to rise, according to Maret Coach Mike Engleberg, after Bowens posted three sacks and three more tackles for loss on Saturday. He also caught three passes for 74 yards, including a 54-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. Bowens has nine sacks and two touchdown catches this season...
Sidwell Friends (2-0) earned a 31-21 win over Victory Christian on Saturday. Senior receiver Diamente Holloway caught five passes for 86 yards, including three touchdowns, and Sidwell overcame a 21-0 second quarter deficit in the win.