Football season is back, and with it, Varsity News. We give you five teams in the D.C. area to keep an eye on this fall.
My name is Jordan Ruby and I've been living in the DMV for five years and covering high school sports in the area for four. Varsity News is a weekly feature that reviews all the best local action in a single place, bullet pointed for easy digestion.
As far I'm concerned, there are two and only two parts of my calendar: the four months from September to December that constitute football season and the other eight months where I wait for September to roll back around.
I just feel better when I wake up on a Friday morning and I know there will be a game that night. It's kind of like the feeling those people get in sleeping aid commercials after they've had their first good night's sleep in weeks. After eight months of waiting patiently, I'll finally have that familiar feeling this Friday, as most teams in the area will start their seasons this weekend.
If you grew up in this area, I don't need to explain how important high school football is around here and how these rivalries help shape the landscape. I didn't grow up in D.C., but once I got here and started covering these games, it didn't take long for me to see how deep these rivalries run.
I once attended a DeMatha alumni function where I was the youngest person in the room by about 50 years. Everyone was having a great time until one of their peers had the audacity to walk into the room with a jacket on that had a similar purple hue to Gonzaga, on of their biggest rivals. Jaws dropped and the room fell silent briefly, before errupting in a chorus of boos and "How could you's?" They forced the man, who had a cane, to put the jacket back in his car, which was parked a significant way up a steep hill. Not one of them offered to help him get there. When he returned, they still didn't understand how he could have made such a mistake, but at least they were willing to look him in the eye.
Anything that happened between them and Gonzaga happened at least five decades ago, but none of them were ready to let it go. They will keep that hatred until the day they died, and probably for a little while afterward.
No sport epitomizes those rivalries more than football, where the dislike between two teams can be expressed most physically. The short season and expedited playoffs make each and every game these teams will play crucial. Even though the season is just starting, the games that will be played this weekend are already important. If you're like me, and you don't have a specific horse in this race, than you can just sit back and enjoy football in it's simplest form over these next four months.
With that in mind, Varsity News now gives you the five teams in the D.C. area you need to be watching this season, in no particular order.
Why You Care: DeMatha is the Yankees of D.C. area athletics. Which is good if you like that sort of thing. As of last year, they led the nation in most alumni playing in the NFL, including Josh Wilson and the Westbrook brothers.
Last Year: The Stags finished 11-1, but their lone loss came in the WCAC championship game to rival Good Counsel. It was the first time DeMatha had not won the conference title in six years.
This Year: Don't let last year's season ending loss fool you, because DeMatha is still the favorite in the WCAC. They are still just as stacked as ever, and just like every other year, they have the potential to run the table.
They boast no less than nine players who will likely be playing at Division I colleges next season. The leader of this group is offensive lineman Cyrus Kouandjio, who is ranked as the seventh best prospect in the class of 2011. His brother, Arie, was a top recruit in 2010 and may start at tackle for Alabama this year as a true freshman. DeMatha also features Delonte Morton, a bruising running back who will stay home and play for the Terps next season.
But DeMatha doesn't just rely on a player or two. Their success derives from being physically dominant all over the field. More often than not, they hold the match up advantage at all 22 positions. Bob Milloy, the coach at Good Counsel who finally broke through with a win against DeMatha in last year's title game, said this in an interview earlier this summer at SB Nation D.C.
it's the same old thing. DeMatha is always going to be there waiting for you. I don't think it's possible to be physically better than DeMatha, ever.
To beat DeMatha, you either need to play the game of your season or hope you catch them on the worst day of theirs. If they play to their potential, they should regain the trophy that eluded them last season. You can imagine how they'll play now that they have a bad taste in their mouth.
Why You Care: Good Counsel has always been supremely talented, but unable to get over the hump. That is, until last year. Their best alumni, Jelani Jenkins, will replace Brandon Spikes at middle linebacker for Florida this year, and he might actually prove to be an upgrade.
Last Year: Good Counsel finished 11-1, and beat DeMatha in the WCAC Championship game, ending a streak of five straight losses to the Stags in the league's title game.
This Year: The Eagles have a lot of holes to fill from last years team. They lost 12 seniors to the collegiate ranks and must replace them with relatively unproven talent.
But unproven doesn't mean untalented. Good Counsel is one of those programs that will always get premier players and will never really have a down year. The biggest area of need will be the secondary, where they will start four new players.
The offensive side is where the Eagles will have the most continuity. They return quarterback Zach Dancel, as well as all five of the lineman who protected him last year. They also return almost half of their other starters at the skill positions.
A player to watch is Blake Countess, who should be featured prominently on both sides of the ball. He has 15 scholarship offers, including Georgia Tech and Tennessee. Milloy will try to get the ball to him any way he can and also use him to get it back from the opposing offense.
The new players are important to help keep the team playing at a high level, but it will be the returning stars who will be looked on to carry the team back to the promised land.
Despite these holes, Good Counsel has the talent to repeat as WCAC champions.
Last Year: Dunbar finished a more than respectable 9-2 last season, but a late season loss to H.D. Woodson prevented them from advancing to the Turkey Bowl (The D.C. public school championship game) for the first since -- get this -- 1997.
This Year: Dunbar's success this season will rest heavily on the shoulders of brothers Varnard and Vance Roberts. Varnard (pictured above) is the leading rusher for the Crimson Tide, while his older brother controls the defensive side of the ball from his cornerback spot. Both Roberts brothers have committed to play in Morgantown for West Virginia next season.
Another player to watch is the one who will be handing the ball off to Vernard, sophomore Quarterback Lamel Matthews, who started all of last year as a true freshman. Dunbar is one of the most celebrated programs in the nation, so to start as a freshman speaks volumes about Matthews' ability both as a player and as a leader. It's a little early to start thinking about the recruiting class of 2013, but Matthews projects to be at or around the top of that list. He's a dual-threat quarterback and should help keep Dunbar's offense balanced.
I recently spoke to Vance Roberts during a Dunbar practice. He balled his hands into fists when he spoke about how upset he was with how last season ended. He wants to leave Dunbar the same way he came in, with a Turkey Bowl trophy. He said anything short would be a disappointment and that he doesn't plan to let that happen.
Dunbar has the talent to be the best team in the D.C. public school system. If they can reach that potential, they won't be an easy team to beat in league play.
Why You Care: Ballou hasn't always been able to translate their talent into wins, but boy are they talented. Former defensive tackle Marvin Austin currently plays for North Carolina and should be a top ten pick in the upcoming NFL Draft.
Last Year: Ballou finished 9-2 last season and lost by a measly four points to H.D. Woodson in the Turkey Bowl.
This Year: When the Ballou Knights made it to the Turkey Bowl last year, the only thing people were saying was, "well, this must just be a down year for Dunbar." When Ballou won their last title in 2006, everyone was saying, "Well, Marvin Austin is the only reason these guys won this thing." This year, the Knights want to prove to everyone that it's a team effort -- their team effort -- that is the reason for their success.
They also happen to be coming off an excruciating loss in the Turkey Bowl. They led early, only to watch H.D. Woodson come all the way back, then stop them three times within the two-yard line in the final minute for what would have been a game-winning touchdown.
They will be led by their offensive and defensive lines, particularly Jamar Lewter and Lamonte Clark. If you wanted to build a left tackle from scratch, he would look a lot like Lewter. Jamar is about 6'6" and 265 pounds, athletic, long armed and left-handed to boot. He'll be playing his college ball for Butch Davis and North Carolina next season. Lewter even plays defensive end when the team switches to a 3-4 defensive front.
Clark is a load at nose tackle. His strength draws double teams almost every down he is on the field. He'll be disrupting Big XII offenses next year at Kansas State.
When I spoke to Lewter, Clark and coach Moses Ware recently, the only thing they had on their mind was an undefeated season, and they weren't shy in talking about it. They want to make sure people know that Ballou is a program built on a wealth of talented players, not just one all-world recruit or the misfortune of another team.
For a team that made the championship game last year, Ballou has a huge chip on their shoulder, and that makes them dangerous. While they aren't the favorites in the DCIAA East, it should surprise no one if they are the team that emerges as the champions of that division.
Last Year: H.D. Woodson is the reigning champions of the DCIAA after beating Ballou 30-26 in last year's Turkey Bowl.
This Year: H.D. Woodson will be playing this entire season carrying an enormous target on their back and the weight of incredible expectations. As the champions of the DCIAA Conference, they'll be getting every single team's best effort every time they step on the field. But if anybody is ready for it, it's H.D. Woodson. They return a number of important players from last year's championship squad and have a handful of guys that will playing on Saturdays next year.
The strength of their team will be the secondary. Adeboye Aromire has already committed to play at Virginia Tech, and Sherrod Harrington has received a number of Division I offers. That means when an offensive unit lines up to pass against H.D. Woodson, half of the players they will be throwing against will be advancing to the next level. There's an intimidation factor in that fact alone that should encourage opposing teams to keep the ball on the ground.
To be the best, you have to beat the best, and until somebody knocks them off, H.D. Woodson is still the best. They'll have the swagger of a team that knows it's good enough to win another championship and the talent to back up that confidence.