It’s back to the Fri­day night lights on the grid­iron

Fri­day night lights com­mon theme in SMAC

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By TED BLACK tblack@somd­

Be­gin­ning tonight all the public high school foot­ball teams that com­pete in the South­ern Mary­land Ath­letic Con­fer­ence will get their first gen­uine taste of those am­ple Fri­day night lights as stu­dents and par­ents flock to the sea­son open­ers that of­fer op­ti­mism and prom­ise that a state ti­tle is per­haps on the hori­zon this fall.

Last sea­son Patux­ent proved to be the only SMAC squad that could as­cend to the head of the class and cap­ture a state ti­tle when it edged Walk­ersville of Fred­er­ick County 21-20 to gar­ner the Class 2A state ti­tle at M&T Bank Sta­dium in Baltimore, home of the two-time Su­per Bowl cham­pion Baltimore Ravens. When the SMAC schools from all four clas­si­fi­ca­tions kick off their re­spec­tive sea­sons tonight, they will be seek­ing the em­u­late the Pan­thers rare feat of one year ago.

Patux­ent head coach and ath­letic di­rec­tor Steve Crounse shrugged off the im­por­tance of be­ing the lone SMAC school to ar­rive this fall as de­fend­ing state cham­pi­ons. Crounse could sense the ex­cite­ment in the build­ing from the open­ing day of classes on Mon­day as the Pan­thers pre­pare to de­fend their 2A state ti­tle by host­ing ri­val Hunt­ing­town and for­mer Thomas Stone front­man Paul Friel tonight.

“It’s been a long sum­mer and a long pre­sea­son,” Crounse said. “The kids are hop­ing to

make their own mark and write their own chap­ter. Noth­ing re­ally changes from week one. Open­ing night al­ways brings a few sur­prises. There’s al­ways a lot of adren­a­line. It’s re­ally an ex­cit­ing time and there’s no bet­ter place to be. Even the in­com­ing fresh­men are al­ready talk­ing about at­tend­ing their first home game as stu­dents.”

Last fall, North Point con­cluded the SMAC sched­ule with a per­fect 10-0 slate, but was elim­i­nated by Broad­neck of Anne Arun­del County in the open­ing round of the 4A East Re­gion play­offs. It was a dif­fi­cult end­ing to what had been a per­fect sea­son to that point. But the start of the up­com­ing sea­son, cou­pled with the off­sea­son con­di­tion­ing pro­gram, al­ways gives head coach Tom Pe­tre and his play­ers added cause for op­ti­mism.

“It’s re­ally ex­cit­ing for the whole school when the sea­son be­gins the first week that the stu­dents are back in the build­ing,” Pe­tre said. His team plays at Thomas Stone to be­gin the reg­u­lar sea­son tonight. “Ev­ery­one on the team be­gan get­ting ready for this point re­ally as soon as last sea­son ended. I think the rest of the stu­dents here have al­ready for­got­ten how last sea­son ended and they’re ex­cited to get this sea­son un­der­way. There’s def­i­nitely a whole dif­fer­ent vibe in the build­ing this week.”

St. Charles is the new­est school in SMAC and last year the new kids on the block im­proved from a win­less in­au­gu­ral cam­paign to fin­ish 5-5 un­der head coach Avery Wil­liams. As the team heads into its sea­son opener tonight at West­lake, Wil­liams could sense the ex­cite­ment build­ing when school re­sumed on Mon­day.

“We’ve al­ways got­ten great sup­port from the ad­min­is­tra­tion and the com­mu­nity,” Wil­liams said. “I think a lot of the teach­ers come here for our games to sup­port us and the par­ents have been very sup­port­ive. This is only our third sea­son, but we have re­ally started to build the pro­gram. I think ev­ery­one in the build­ing gets ex­cited when foot­ball sea­son starts.”

La Plata sec­ond-year head coach Rod Milstead also could sense the added ex­cite­ment in the build­ing when school re­sumed, al­though the War­riors are seek­ing to re­bound from a win­less sea­son in 2015 in Milstead’s rookie sea­son at the helm. The War­riors, who host Chop­ti­con to start the reg­u­lar sea­son tonight, plan to ded­i­cate the up­com­ing sea­son to the late Ja­son Walton, a long­time friend and as­sis­tant coach of Milstead who died this sum­mer.

“There’s def­i­nitely a dif­fer­ent feel in the build­ing this year than there was at this time last year,” said Milstead, a mem­ber of the Su­per Bowl XXX cham­pion San Fran­cisco 49ers. “I think we all came into last sea­son with a lot of un­cer­tainty. But this year the kids have re­ally bought into the pro­gram. I think the whole school has re­ally been sup­port­ive and the whole stu­dent body is ex­cited.”

Even at St. Mary’s Ryken, which opened the sea­son with a 34-18 set­back at Calvert Hall on Satur­day in Baltimore, head coach Jerry Franks could hardly down­play the buzz that trav­els through the school at the out­set of foot­ball sea­son is un­mis­tak­able.

“Ev­ery school where I’ve taught and coached, you could just feel the ex­cite­ment travel through the hall­ways that first week of the sea­son,” said Franks, who had pre­vi­ously coached at DeMatha, Calvert and Hunt­ing­town. His Knights play their sec­ond game of the reg­u­lar sea­son tonight at H.D. Wood­son of Wash­ing­ton, D.C. “It re­ally doesn’t mat­ter what the ex­pec­ta­tions are for the coaches, the play­ers and the rest of the stu­dent body re­ally en­joy the start of the foot­ball sea­son.”

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