It was the year of the quarterbacks in Anne Arundel County in 2008, as the top four passers combined for nearly 9,000 yards.
Although Raymond Cotton (Mississippi) of Meade, Grant Enders (Holy Cross) of Old Mill and Kyle Colleran of Broadneck have graduated, record-setting Billy Cosh of Arundel returns in this pass-happy county.
Cosh, the son of Kansas State defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, set eight public school state records last year and led Arundel to the Class 4A state semifinals. Seven of those eight marks stand as all-time state records, including his 3,909 passing yards and 56 touchdowns.
Cosh highlights a talented cast of prospects from Anne Arundel County, including Old Mill's Josh Furman, Broadneck's Hussam Ouri and Meade's Mawanza Wamulumba.
Arundel and Old Mill are the preseason favorites, but this county might prove to be among the deepest in the state with Broadneck, North County and Severna Park as legitimate playoff contenders and Annapolis, South River, Southern-AA and Meade on the rise.
Since the state went to the regional playoff format in 2003, Arundel has made the playoffs every season, with back-to-back region titles in 2007 and 2008. Coach Chuck Markiewicz, who guided North County to a state title in 1993, has Arundel positioned for a Class 4A title run this season. Cosh grabs the headlines for his offensive prowess, but the strength of this year's Wildcats will be the linebacker corps. Bobby Partilla, who is being recruited by I-AA programs, R.J. Harmon, Michael Brown and Dominque Mathews all return from last year's 11-2 state semifinalist squad. Arundel picked up a pair of transfers in corner back Jonathan Haskett from Edgewood and defensive lineman Michael Thomas from H.D. Woodson (Washington D.C.). Offensively, R.J. Harris figures to slide into the primary receiver role in the team's hurry-up spread offense. Arundel looks strong on the line with Joe Kopp and Ed Hunt.
Markiewicz feels an important step to contending for a state title will be establishing a better running game. "We don't expect Billy to have a season like that again," he said of Cosh's record-setting season. "We told him only one person ever in Maryland has ever had a season like that. We need to run the ball better to get the pressure off him."
The team that is expected to give Arundel a run for the region title is Old Mill, which returns major college prospect Furman, two-time all-county performer Jason Clements and Division I prospect Randy Spann.
Although Old Mill graduated all-county quarterback Grant Enders, the team picked up a transfer in Joe Thorton, which should ease the transition. Clements, a running back, has more than 2,000 career rushing yards. Furman could see time in the backfield or as a receiver on offense. Defensively, Spann and Justin Mullins anchor a strong group of linebackers.
Last year was a season of heartbreak for Broadneck. Sure, most programs would relish a 7-3 season, but for the Bruins it led to missing the playoffs for only the second time since 2000. Broadneck and Severna Park were tied for the final Class 4A East playoff spot in the state's complicated points formula, and Broadneck lost the tiebreaker. The Bruins bring back six offensive and five defensive starters in hopes of returning to postseason play for eighth time this decade. The top player is lineman Ouri, who holds an offer from nearby Navy.
Led by a pair of huge linemen, North County has established itself as a playoff contender. Jeremy Dixon (6-foot-4, 255 pounds) and Rodney Johnson (6-5, 380) are among the team's 14 returning starters. Johnson earned Big School Second-Team All-State honors in 2008. The team's top prospect is linebacker Pat Carey, a first-team all-county selection last year. Carey is a two-time wrestling state runner-up. North County is coming off an 8-3 season and one key area of concern is finding a quarterback, which could fall to Omar Adams.
Severna Park's playoff dreams seemed dim early with an 0-2 start. However, the Falcons won seven of their last eight games, advanced to the playoffs and upset No. 1 seed Old Mill en route to a runner-up finish in the region. Two-way starters Sean Price and Billy Nichols, a pair of all-county performers, graduated leaving Severna Park with voids on both sides of the ball. The top returning player is Chris Bonomi, a defensive back who recorded 36 tackles last season and earned Big School All-State honorable mention status.
If there's one team that can make a rapid rise from a non-playoff squad to a region title contender, it might be Annapolis. Coach Brian Brown returns standout junior running back Demond Brown and senior defensive back Kendal Saunders. Annapolis will be small on the line but athletic all around the field. Annapolis was a perennial playoff challenger until the early 2000s. The Panthers dipped to 2-8 in 2007 but recovered for a 6-4 showing in 2008.
South River was looking good after Week 3 of 2008 with a perfect record. Then the injuries started to mount. In total, South River lost 14 players to injury last year, and that 3-0 start ended up as a 3-7 season. The good news for South River is 15 starters return from last year's squad, which should make competing for one of the four Class 4A East playoff spots feasible for the team. South River's strength will be the offensive line behind David Coffin and Tyler Savoye. South River likes to keep the ball on the ground, so the team has become accustomed to seeing eight or nine defensive players in the box trying to stop the run. A key player may be quarterback Shane Lee, who will be asked to pass more than former South River quarterbacks. "We need to throw better and get out of that third-and-long situation," coach Steve Erxleben said.
There was quite a buzz at Meade last year when Raymond Cotton, a bonafide NCAA Division I prospect who had committed to Auburn, transferred to the Anne Arundel County school. The excitement peaked as Meade started 2-0 under first-year head coach Lance Clelland. Meade's season took a downward turn, as the team lost six of its last eight games. Cotton, who later changed his commitment to Ole Miss, is gone, but Clelland is hoping some of the excitement about Meade football remains. After all, the squad did go from 1-9 in 2007 to 4-6 last season. Wamulumba, a 6-3, 245-pound defensive end, is getting Division I looks and Teldrick Morgan is a Division I-AA prospect. "We want to change the attitude about Meade football and develop the mental toughness that hasn't been at Meade for at least 10 years," Clelland said. If Meade can make another three-win improvement over last year, the Mustangs will be in the playoff running for the first time since 2001.
Southern-AA has been about as consistent as they come during Russ Meyers' 14 years as head coach. More than 80 percent of the time, Southern has finished between 4-6 and 6-4. With nine returning starters, Meyers is hoping to turn last year's 4-6 into a winning season and possibly a playoff berth for the county's smallest school. The team's top returners are three-year starter Ryan Sullivan at running back and place-kicker Micah Strickland. Look for a youth movement at Southern this fall as a pair of juniors, Hunter Riggs and Davonte Burke, should factor prominently in the team's double-wing offense.
Chesapeake-AA took its lumps last year, going 2-8, but with 16 returning starters, the Cougars figure to be more or a factor in 2009. Tyler Sousa, a tight end, is the team's top prospect and is coming off an all-county season. Chesapeake appeared to be primed for a respectable 2008 season before a rash of preseason injuries took seven players out of the lineup. The good news is that those players were replaced by underclassmen who now serve as senior leaders on this year's squad.
Northeast-AA returns several skill position players that coach Kevin Kylus hopes can turn the program's fortunes around. The Eagles went 2-8 last season. Northeast will run the spread offense with Darren Costa at quarterback. In addition to senior receivers Kenny McDonald and Brandon Haney, Northeast has a rising sophomore to watch in 6-2, 180-pound Nick Marshall.
Things just keep getting more difficult for Glen Burnie. The Gophers are in the midst of a 25-game losing streak, the second-longest active run in Maryland. In the offseason, the team's starting quarterback from last year transferred to Old Mill and it lost another starter to North County. In addition, the team will forfeit its first game of the season because of an out-of-season coaching violation. The good news is standout Matt Watson returns at receiver and defensive back and a majority of the starters will be underclassmen, which bodes well for 2010. A player to watch will be sophomore running back A.J. Simms, who has college potential.
Sheldon Shealer has covered high school football in Maryland for more than 20 years. He can be reached at Sheldon.Shealer@espn.com