By Andrew Conrad
It was two years ago when Wilde Lake football coach Doug DuVall first told Danny March, then a sophomore, that he was thinking about retiring the next year. Back then March was an undersized defensive back with big playmaking abilities who finished the season with seven interceptions. A year later, when March was a junior quarterback -- though still undersized, and still making big plays on defense -- DuVall told him that he thought he would stay for one last season.
"He realized that we had so many athletes and maybe we could do something this year," March said.
It might have been when DuVall watched star running back Jarrel Epps (5-foot-6) and March (5-foot-8) dunk basketballs in gym class that he realized just how athletic this senior class was.
Any college coach, wondering if March's height limits him in any way, should take note of the fact that he can leap three feet off the ground and stuff a basketball through a ten-foot rim.
"It's (an) amazing (feeling)," said March, the Columbia Flier/Howard County Times Defensive Player of the Year.
March made sure that he rewarded DuVall's faith in sticking around for his senior year.
He made 87 solo tackles (118 total) and had seven interceptions, returning two of them for touchdowns. He led Wilde Lake to the Class 3A state championship, allowing DuVall to walk the sideline at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium for the last game of his magnificent 36-year career.
The Wildecats (12-2 in 2008) didn't win the state championship game, which would have been DuVall's sixth title, but they did win a dozen games in what will still go down as one of the greatest seasons in Wilde Lake football history.
"In the beginning of the season, you didn't know what could happen, everyone says they're going to the state championship," said March, who has not yet selected a college, but plans to play college football.
As quarterback and punt returner, March almost never left the field during games. He prepared for the workload by running hills with teammates Epps and Chaz Cousin in the preseason. He still says he was exhausted at the end of every game, though it never showed.
He carried the ball 148 times for 870 yards and 11 touchdowns and passed for 542 yards and five touchdowns. On special teams, he returned 12 punts for 142 yards and a touchdown.
"He just plays his heart out," DuVall said. "Pound for pound, he plays harder than anybody."
DuVall is thankful that he stayed for one more year and he may remember the quarterback of his final team as much as any player he has ever coached.
"If I was picking a team ... it doesn't matter if it's a backyard game or high school ... he's the one I would pick first over anybody, because he's such a competitor," DuVall said.
Named to the all-county defensive first team are:
Jackson Drury, Wilde Lake. "Each year you have a kid that really surprises you," coach Doug DuVall said of Drury.
DuVall wasn't counting on the Drury's 80 tackles and seven sacks, but he sure enjoyed them.
"His defensive play in his senior year was a pleasant surprise," said the long-time coach.
Drury, at 6-foot-1, who is now one of the top 189-pound wrestlers in Howard County, plans to play football for McDaniel College next season.
Mike Franklin, Long Reach. About the same size as his linemate on the offensive side, Aaron Dailey, Franklin offered a bookend on the defensive side and was just as effective.
He "is an unblockable defensive tackle," coach Pete Hughes said. Franklin made 56 tackles, including five sacks, and used his quick reflexes to break up five pass attempts.a
"He bench presses nearly 400 pounds ... and is very aggressive. He is a quiet leader," Hughes said. "He enabled our young linebackers to fly to the ball by demanding a double team block."
Billy Hall, Glenelg. At 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Hall was about as big of a lineman as a high school football coach could want, and he had a motor that kept him in the game on both offense and defense.
"He was good on both sides of the ball, and he's very quick for a big man," coach Butch Schaffer said.
Hall (35 total tackles) busted through opposing offensive lines for five tackles for loss and a sack.
Tim Willman, Reservoir. The University of Connecticut commit was a menace for opposing teams. The 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive end could tip passes at the line of scrimmage with his long wingspan, plug up running lanes, pursue quarterbacks in the backfield, chase down runners from behind and use his soft hands (he has also played tight end) to haul in interceptions.
Willman was selected to play in the Maryland Crab Bowl senior all-star game.
Matt Banta, Marriotts Ridge. The Mustangs allowed only 17 points per game this season as Banta led a vastly improved defense from 2007.
"I would lay a lot of that (improvement) on him," coach Ken Hovet said. "He was the most aggressive kid on our defense and a captain."
Banta was the team's leading tackler (97 total) and he caused three fumbles. Banta was also the team's leading tackler last year.
Tyler Brittain, Glenelg. With his size, strength and rough-and-tumble style at both linebacker and fullback, Brittain resembled a player from a bygone era.
"He's an old school, throwback type," coach Butch Schaffer said. "He's a hard-nosed player."
Brittain made 71 hard-hitting tackles, causing opposing opponents to cough up the ball on two of them. On offense, he rumbled for 200 yards and four touchdowns. But Brittain wasn't just a grunt. His athleticism allowed him to catch 10 passes for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns, and on defense he dropped into coverage to break up two passes and make an interception.
Kevin Moore, River Hill. At the beginning of the season, River Hill coaches were concerned about the linebacking corps after the graduation of Jon Hill and Zach Martin. By the end of the season, that area was one of the team's greatest strengths, thanks in part to Moore.
"He fit in very nicely," coach Brian Van Deusen said.
Moore led the team in tackles for most of the season, and finished with 111, just one behind team leader Patrick McCleaf. He was the playmaker on defense, causing two fumbles, recovering three, intercepting two passes, and making a team-best 11 tackles for loss and six sacks.
Moore also scored six touchdowns on offense. Best of all, he is coming back next year.
"He'll be a big part in next year's team, we'll be able to plan some things around him," Van Deusen said.
Jake Stull, Atholton. Stull was "the meat of our defense. Wherever the ball was he was on it," coach Chuck Fales said. "He dominated the inside."
Not the biggest player on the field by any stretch, Stull used his fireplug -like build to shed blockers and get to the ball carrier, leading the Raiders with 81 tackles, seven for loss. On offense he rushed for 987 yards and ten touchdowns.
Kyle Young, Centennial. Young looks to be one of the top players in the county next season after making 65 solo tackles (115 total) with 12 for loss and two sacks this year.
"He's one of the harder working kids we've had," said coach Ken Senisi, who says he is impressed by Young's impeccable technique. "A lot of the kids look to him for leadership."
Young also had the conditioning and endurance to carry the load on offense. As a running back he had 828 yards and 14 of his team's 20 rushing touchdowns.
Patrick Blackmon, Long Reach. When this team captain wasn't hurting opponents with a long kick or punt return, he was hurting them in pass coverage. Blackmon made 46 tackles and four interceptions and spoiled six pass attempts.
"No one threw his way, and when they did it was a pass break up or interception," coach Pete Hughes said.
Blackmon was also the Lightning punt (20-yard average) and kick (35-yard average) returner.
Leron Eaddy, River Hill. It was hard to classify Eaddy under one position on defense. Wherever he was when a play started though, he ended up in the same place, near the football.
"He's very aggressive, he likes to be in on the action," coach Brian Van Deusen said. "He was basically in charge of shutting down the outside game.
Eaddy made 89 total tackles, with nine for loss and three sacks. His heavy hitting loosened three fumbles. As a running back, Eaddy scored the first touchdown of the Class 2A state championship win over Eastern Tech and he averaged more than 11 yards per carry on the season. He will play with teammate Malek Redd at Central Michigan and should excel as a strong safety.
Diontae Jones, Howard. One of a trio of ace running backs in the Lions backfield, Jones used his speed, height and strength to also shut down opposing receivers.
"We locked him in on man coverage. When he was in the game he covered the opponents best receiver," coach Bruce Strunk said.
If teams did dare pass his way, they found trouble as Jones used his 6-foot, 190-pound frame to bust up three pass plays and make an interception. On offense, he used his quickness and breakaway speed to rush for more than 800 yards and eight touchdowns.
Jameson Zacharias, Mt. Hebron. A three-year starter and the son of former University of Maryland and Baltimore Ravens assistant coach Phil Zacharias, Jameson is "a student of the game," coach Ross Hannon said.
"You can tell he's the son of a coach," Hannon said.
Doing little things like throwing a block for a teammate, Zacharias never left the field. He ran the ball, caught the ball and returned punts and kickoffs. After a junior season in which he made three interceptions, teams were not keen on throwing his way, but "he made the plays when he was challenged. He came through when he had the opportunity," Hannon said.
Zacharias also plays basketball and runs track, but he is a student first and athlete second, so "Columbia (University) is high on his list," Hannon said.
Greg Edmonds, Centennial. The Eagles placed extra emphasis this offseason on special teams play, and Edmonds was a key in the battle for field position. A three-sport athlete who already has a scholarship to play lacrosse for Johns Hopkins, Edmonds booted 34 punts for 1,104 yards (32.5 average), with a long of 49 yards and five dropped inside the 20-yard line.
"I attribute his punting (ability) to just being a great athlete," Ken Senisi said.
As quarterback, he completed 44 percent of his passes for 473 yards and six touchdowns.