It’s back to the Friday night lights on the gridiron
Friday night lights common theme in SMAC
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.”