As he broke the huddle after practice Wednesday, following a high-volume, high-intensity speech that had even the Surrattsville football team’s managers carrying the water coolers a little more quickly, Coach Robert Harris Jr. turned back to his team to remind them exactly what he wants from Saturday’s Maryland 1A North region final against Sparrows Point.
“I want wood!” he said, taking a few more steps then pausing and calling back to his team: “That’s what the trophy’s made of, just to be clear.”
The addition was only partially sarcastic. Everyone laughed, because who doesn’t know what a region championship trophy looks like? But you can’t blame Harris for making sure; his Hornets (9-2) have never had their hands on a Maryland region trophy. Over the last 12 years, they’ve managed only three playoff berths and two winning seasons, including this one.
But this fall, Harris’s sixth as head coach, that trophy is well within sight. For the first time, Surrattsville will host a region final after earning its first No. 1 seed in the school’s five-plus decades of existence.
This year’s group hears the stories of the standout Surrattsville teams that came before, the names of former star players whose legacies turned legendary with just one playoff win at a school that can count those victories on one hand. This year’s team also knows how those magical seasons ended: both at the hands of former 1A powerhouse Dunbar (Baltimore) in the region final.
“We always hear about that one year,” said junior quarterback Robert Harris III, the coach’s son, “when they went 9-1 in the regular season with Davin Meggett.”
Meggett is the pride of Hornets football, one of those standouts who Surrattsville fans will always remember for leading the team to a rare playoff berth and representing the Clinton school during a four-year career at Maryland. An All-Met running back, Meggett rushed for 1,784 yards on 169 carries as a senior in 2007, carrying his team to a 44-0 win in the first round of the playoffs before falling at Dunbar in the region final.
Meggett was named to the Redskins practice squad last week. Couple that with the fact that this breakout season comes the same year the Hornets’ nemesis Dunbar was moved up to 2A, and the stars may be aligning for this school of fewer than 900 students.
The path to the best season in Surrattsville history began six years ago, when Harris Jr. took the reins in the wake of Meggett’s graduation. After going 3-7 in 2008, Harris turned the Hornets into a 6-6 playoff team in 2011. They narrowly missed the playoffs last year.
“I think you have a coach in place for six years now, and when that happens it makes a difference,” said Charles Harley, coach of 1A rival Forestville, whom the Hornets beat 22-20 this season. “That helps, as opposed to having a new coach every two, three years with new philosophies. Guys who were freshmen are now senior starters who have seen the same thing for four years now.”
Surrattsville’s players say they felt something was different this summer in a 7-on-7 passing league.
“We played a lot of good teams to the wire, and almost beat Calvert Hall at Towson,” said Harris III, who added that the 7-on-7 success came with just nine players, most playing without rest on both offense and defense. “That gave us a lot of confidence. They have a lot of playmakers, and we saw we could go toe-to-toe with them.”
Stupid mistakes and lost focus don’t have a place in Surrattsville football anymore.
Coaches were quick to call out players under the lights at Friendly, where the Hornets practiced this week. “It’s regional finals time,” one bellowed. “We don’t do that anymore.”
“Sometimes you need a good yelling,” senior offensive lineman Jahvon Graham said.
“You might not want that, but it helps us to do what we’re supposed to,” added linebacker Alonzo Anderson. “It helps us do everything right before you go out there for real.”
With each win, the Hornets have seen school spirit and support for their team increase. Harris Jr. said members of the community who have never shown any interest in football before have expressed support, and a bus driver told him how excited he was about a winning Surrattsville team. In school, the players say “there’s more community involved,” a palpable shift from previous seasons when the football team was the butt of jokes, rather than a source of pride.
“It’s a lot of people saying ‘we,’ instead of ‘the football team,’ Harris III said.
Now all Surrattsville eyes are on the Hornets as they prepare to host a region final for the first time in school history Saturday against the Pointers (8-3). This may already be the best season in school history, one that teams down the line will hear about and hope to emulate. With a win Saturday, it could become immortalized with a wooden MPSSAA region championship trophy — and perhaps another, too, but the Hornets won’t talk about that just yet — in the Surrattsville trophy case.
“We’re trying to make a consistent history for the school,” Harris III said. “We’re trying to change history.”