Things were finally looking up for Atholton by the beginning of football season. The Raiders could use their facilities again after a summer of shuffling between county schools because of construction. Former college assistant Jim Swigart was joining as new head coach, along with three talented transfers from neighboring schools. An opening win against Marriotts Ridge, 35-7, gave the No. 15 Raiders a promising start to the season.
Then came the blows. First, a second half collapse against Howard on Sept. 16 that gave the Lions 16 points in 2 1 / 2 minutes and sidelined running back Isaac Murray with a concussion. Then the news on Tuesday that Atholton would forfeit its first game because of an out-of-season practice violation. The Raiders now stand at 0-2 going into Friday’s critical matchup against No. 8 River Hill.
Atholton was penalized for a May 13 practice witnessed and reported by members of the River Hill football staff during a baseball game between the two schools at Atholton, according to e-mail correspondance obtained by the The Post. After being alerted of the practice, Atholton’s administration reported the incident to John Davis, Coordinator of Athletics for the Howard County Public Schools System who determined the practice was in violation of out-of-season practice restrictions. The Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association approved the ruling and recommended sanctions on Monday.
“Life throws you curve balls, but adversity makes us better football players, and better people,” Swigart said. “This isn’t the first time this happened, and it will be a great learning experience.”
The visit from River Hill (2-0) was already a noteworthy game on the calendar. The Hawks knocked Atholton out of the playoffs last year on the way to a 3A state title and the recent forfeit has just fueled the players more, said senior linebacker Cody Stolar.
“We know who reported this to state and all that did is lit a fire under us,” Stolar said. “It’s given us more motivation to do whatever we have to do. In a way, I’m glad it happened, because it’s just going to do so much more for us, give us another reason to win this game.”
The Raiders will be without Murray on Friday because of last week’s concussion. The senior contributed 12 carries and 152 yards rushing in Week 1 and 76 yards in the first half of the Howard game before his injury.
Swigart will need to rely on his strong receiving core of seniors Marquise Findlay-Smith and Bryan Barney. Barney transferred from Marriotts Ridge this season and said his transition to the Raiders has been seamless. He was voted captain and is weighing options from several Football Bowl Subdivision schools (his top two are Maryland and Virginia Tech) while contributing offensively with six catches for 92 yards in the 40-16 loss to Howard.
“Kevin’s a good back and he knows the shoes he has to fill this week,” Stolar said. “He’s focused 100 percent, and we tell him every practice we believe in him, and we do.”
Calvert has seen significant improvement under Coach Rick Sneade in the past two years, but last week’s loss to La Plata proved there are still obstacles to overcome, especially when dealing with a light lineup.
The Cavaliers were 4-4 in the Southern Maryland Athletic Conference last year after a 2-6 showing in 2011. They started off this season with a 20-0 win against Great Mills (0-2). A Week 2 visit to La Plata (1-1) began with a 70-yard touchdown run that put them on the board, but also brought down running back MJ Wallace with a pulled hamstring.
Calvert hosts undefeated No. 19 Huntingtown (2-0) Friday.
“We’re dealing with a very different timeline and some injuries and health issues,” Sneade said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to overcome this week against Huntingtown.”
Calvert is used to fielding a small, young roster and making do with what they can as a 2A school.
“No matter our situation in the past two years, we’ve played a tight ball game with kids rising to the challenge,” Sneade said.
Some players, such as junior running back Troy Wade, took their first snap at a new position last week, while others like offensive lineman Austin Long provide valuable experience and age on the field.
Sneade will enter Friday’s game with a roster of 32. Wallace is day-to-day and receiving treatment.
“We’ve got the skill and the talent and we just need to get some guys ready, get some depth in other areas,” Sneade said. “If we can control the ball and not create turnovers, we can be in a dog fight with a very good Huntingtown team.”