As tough as the MIAA A conference was last season, this year could be even more brutal.
Only Calvert Hall finished below .500 last season, but the Cardinals allowed an average of only 14 points per game. Three-time A conference defending champion Loyola will have to replace its three-year starting quarterback, but returns a QB who defeated Gilman last season. Gilman and Mount St. Joseph will both play teams in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC), giving a strong comparison between those two power conferences.
The B conference will look slightly different this season as two new teams join the league. St. Frances (Baltimore, Md.) moves into the B conference after playing an independent schedule in its first season as a program. St. John's Catholic Prep moves up to the B conference after winning back-to-back C conference championships.
St. Vincent Pallotti moves down to the C conference for the first time in school history. Baltimore Lutheran finished second in the conference last season, finishing 3-3 in the league.
MIAA A Conference
Calvert Hall might have only finished 4-7 last season, but those five losses were by a combined 21 points. Head coach Donald Davis enters his third season as head coach and said he feels like this is his most athletic Cardinal team. Seven starters return from last year's team, including All-MIAA quarterback Patrick Fitzgerald.
Georgetown Prep returns 11 starters from last year's 7-3 squad, including starting quarterback Jack Schryber who completed 60 percent of his passes last season. Schryber's best target could be tight end Paul Phillips who averaged 12 yards per catch last year. Head coach Dan Paro will focus on maintaining a stingy defense that allowed an average of only 15 points per game. Overall, the Little Hoyas return 25 players from last season's team and will add some players from successful freshman and junior varsity teams.
When Gilman defeated DeMatha 21-14 in Week 2 last year, many thought it signaled that the Greyhounds were back in full force. The final record (6-4) may not have reflected that thought, but it might have just signaled what to look for this season. Head coach Biff Poggi returns six offensive starters and seven on defense and will play one of the toughest schedules in Maryland. On defense, the Greyhounds boast two Division I-A commitments in Jim Poggi and Anthony Ferguson (both are committed to Iowa). Gilman is another team that will make its stake for the No. 1 ranking in Maryland, a title they held in both 2002 and 2005. Gilman starts the season playing Bear Creek (Colo.) and follows up with a Week 2 rematch against DeMatha. Gilman will also face Good Counsel this season -- giving it at least two teams that will likely start the season in the preseason Top 5.
Loyola is the three-time defending MIAA A conference champion, but will look much different this year. Three-year starting quarterback Leon Kinnard and running back Terence Garvin have graduated and moved on to play college ball at UConn and West Virginia respectively. Even with the loss of two of the conferences top players, head coach Brian Abbott is confident in this year's squad. Conor Bruns stepped in for the final few games of last year when Kinnard went down with an injury. In his first start, Bruns threw for 274 yards and four touchdowns in a win over Gilman. Stepping into Garvin's role will be senior Vince Snarski. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound running back will give the Dons a solid tandem in the backfield with Bruns. The offensive line will be young with four players graduated, but center Ben Cranston returns to help the young guys mature. Overall, four starters return on both offense and defense for Loyola. This year's team will have a number of sophomores and according to Abbott, the team is going to fall back on the model of developing players they used when Kinnard was a sophomore - and bring them along slowly. That 2006 team won the MIAA A conference.
Along with Loyola, McDonogh boasts one of the best quarterbacks in the conference and possibly Maryland. Rudy Johnson will return under center, after throwing for 1,838 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. Overall, 13 starters return from last year's 4-6 squad. The offensive line will be young, but head coach Dom D'Amico returns all his key skill position players from last year, including receiver back Gabe Macis and running back Bryan Ellis.
Mount St. Joseph has been steadily on the rise since head coach Chip Armstrong took over five years ago. When he took over in 2005 the team had not had a winning record since 2001. After back-to-back 3-7 seasons in 2005 and 2006, the Gaels broke through in 2007 - finishing 6-4 and winning a share of the MIAA A conference championship. Last year, Mount St. Joseph finished 7-2 and will return 11 starters to this year's team. Virginia Tech commitment, Kyle Fuller will play defensive back and also vie for the starting quarterback role with Travis O'Brien. Once again, the Gaels will be fast and athletic and Armstrong said the defense and special teams should be a keystone of the team. Shelton Hall-Bennett returns at linebacker after leading the team in tackles as a junior. Armstrong's team will be tested early - facing B conference power Archbishop Curley in Week 1, followed by Edmondson (Baltimore, Md.) in Week 2 and Good Counsel (Olney, Md.) in Week 3. Last year's Class 1A runner up Fort Hill is also on Mount St. Joseph's schedule this season.
Four starters return from last year's 8-3 Archbishop Curley team. All-conference running back, Pat Diamond is one of the key returnees, after rushing for 972 yards and 15 touchdowns last season. According to head coach Sean Murphy, filling the holes left by graduation will be players from Curley's junior varsity team that won the conference championship last season. The Friars are expected to be deep at running back, which is important for Murphy's Double-Win offense.
Archbishop Spalding head coach Mike Whittles is cautiously excited about this year's team. 20 players return from last season's 5-5 team, including 10 starters. Whittles said the team will be young and will have depth at several positions this season. After being down 13 athletes towards the end of last season that depth will be an advantage for a team that finished only one game out of the MIAA B conference championship last season. Highlighting this year's roster is Brian Cooper and Chris Piccirilli. Cooper is committed to the University of Maryland for lacrosse and Piccirilli is committed to Villanova for lacrosse. Among Spalding's rising stars are a trio of juniors: Julian Washington, Shelly White and K.K. Smith.
Boy's Latin has fallen back somewhat over the past two years - posting nine wins after going 17-4 in 2005 and 2006. This could be a season in which the Lakers return as 17 starters return from last year's 4-6 team. Among the key players is Marco Jones on the offensive line. Jones has received interest from Maryland, Penn State, Duke, Tennessee among others, according to head coach Richie Schell.
Cardinal Gibbons finished 3-7 last year, but with 12 starters returning head coach Scott Ripley is excited about this year's team. Participation in weight room workouts has been going great and they ran a 7-on-7 camp this summer to prepare for the season. Because of that work, Ripley said the passing game will be strong this season with receivers Nike Hall-Brown and Marcus Walker returning. The offensive line will average a height of 6-foot-2 and the team also received some transfers from Towson Catholic after that school closed.
John Carroll returns 12 starters from a 6-4 team and could get an injection of youth and talent at running back to add to its star quarterback. Head coach Keith Rawlings enters his second season and said freshman running back Dale Harris Jr. is one to watch this season. Not only does the freshman have a shot at making the varsity this season, Rawlings said his 5-foot-7, 155-pound back could be the team's starter. "He's very fast and very aggressive," Rawlings said. Quarterback Stephen St. Clair is expected to take the reigns at quarterback this season - a role he excelled in late last season. After starting the year at receiver, St. Clair was moved to quarterback for the final three games and produced more than 500 yards and six touchdowns - leading the Patriots to three straight wins. On defense, St. Clair had a team-high 92 tackles and three interceptions.
Severn looks to rebound from back-to-back 3-7 seasons. Last year was only the Admirals third losing season this decade after posting 38 wins from 2000 to 2006.
St. Paul's will look slightly different from last year's 8-3 B conference runner-up. Former head coach Dave Dolch resigned to take the Athletic Directors job at Manchester Valley. In his place is assistant coach Paul Bernstorf. Starting quarterback Troy Jones graduated after throwing for more than 1,800 yards. Overall, 11 starters return from last year's team, highlighted by Baltimore Touchdown Club Super 22 member, Gavin Class.
St. Frances surpassed any expectations about last year's first year program. The team went 4-4 as an independent team and will play in the MIAA B conference this season. Head coach Mike Clay returns six starters, including Division I prospect, Marcus Snipes. The 6-1, 175-pound receiver holds offers from Old Dominion, James Madison and Richmond. According to Clay, the team will field 30 players and is not expected to have any of them play both ways. "Having no two-way players will allow us the opportunity to coach the young players up between series," Clay stated via e-mail.
St. John's Catholic Prep is a program on the rise, both literally and figuratively. The back-to-back C conference champions are making the move to the B conference this season, after finishing 7-4 and 9-2 in the last two years. Third-year head coach Jimmy Ward inherited a team that had gone 1-9 in 2006 with no Division I prospects to a program with several talented athletes. Junior LaMont Wims has amassed more than 5,000 career yards in two seasons and holds offers from Tennessee and North Carolina. Senior Forrest Mason is a 6-foot-2, 240-pound defensive end who recorded 13 sacks last season and holds offers from East Carolina, UConn and Towson. Despite the loss of national prospect, Ego Ferguson (transferred to Hargrave Military Academy), Ward is excited about this year's team. "We return every player at the skill positions and have had back-to-back years of success which should help in tight games," Ward stated via e-mail. The Vikings will be tested early as they open their season with a road game against Gilman.
St. Mary's is coming off a B conference championship and Brad Best enters his second season as head coach. The Saints have won the past two B conference title and will once again have All-MIAA athlete Mark McNeill to rely on in the team's run and shoot offense.
Annapolis Area Christian will be in its third year as a football program in 2009. After finishing with one win each of the past two seasons, head coach Kenny Lucas will look to improve upon a defense that allowed the most points in the conference (341).
Baltimore Lutheran could be in position to regain the C conference championship they shared with St. John's Catholic Prep in 2007. The Saints were 4-6 last season and finished second to the Vikings last season. Two years ago, Baltimore Lutheran finished 6-4 and 5-1 in the C conference.
Tom LaMonica enters his 38th season as head coach at Friends School. The Quakers finished 2-4 in the C conference last season.
St. Vincent Pallotti moves down to the C conference after spending the past 20 years in the B conference. The move could be just the ticket for the Panthers after finishing 1-9 and 2-9 the past two seasons.
ESPNRise encourages comments from its users. Leave a comment below. Mike Loveday covers high school sports for ESPNRISE.com. Mike can be reached at Michael.Loveday@espn.com