On schedule, we’re not. Every coach wants to stay on schedule, but this face mask penalty of a pandemic has the future of high school football in the fall looking at a third and long. To add, the future is down three months of conditioning and camaraderie, with just minutes left on the clock.

The novel virus known as COVID-19 has thrown the world in a loop, and consequently, the uncertainty of how schooling will look this autumn, and by extension, the uncertainty of scholastic sports in the fall, including the most popular sport of all, football on the gridiron, is unwavering.

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This article will unmask the thoughts of more than a handful of the most successful high school football coaches in the Baltimore area, on the impact that this pandemic has had on their respective programs, and what lies ahead as they plan for the unknown. The head football coaches of teams have served as the CEO of their respective programs for decades, but this year above any other, they are a project manager, specializing in risk management, more than any other year of their coaching careers.

I picked the minds of eight local head coaches, and a Hall of Famer who still volunteers, to check the mindset of this brain trust as we approach decisions and possible disruption of this upcoming season. Marcus Lewis, Head Coach at Marriotts Ridge, Kyle Schmitt, Head Coach at Archbishop Spalding, Dom D’Amico, Head Coach at Mt St Joe, Justin Payne, Head Coach at Parkville, Hakeem Sule, Head Coach at McDonogh, Larry Luthe, Head Coach at Liberty, Matt Feeney, Head Coach at Elkton, Ed Dolch, Head Coach at South River, and former Wilde Lake Head Coach and Hall of Famer Doug Duvall, all shared their thoughts for this story.

A project manager must look at the quadrants of knowledge – the known knowns, known unknowns, unknown knowns, and the unknown unknowns, when identifying the scope of risk management. At this point of the summer, at this point of the pandemic, coaches are looking at the unknown unknowns, without a doubt, as we are living in unprecedented times. The fate of this football season for every scholastic coach and player in the country remains fluid, if not in doubt, with decisions to be made within the next 2-3 weeks for all 50 states.

“Our program has practiced ‘control the controllable’ long before this pandemic, and the mindset continues. I think our coaches and players have found comfort in a very consistent schedule and routine since late March that includes afternoon positional meetings, virtual 7-on-7/Inside Run and team meetings. Contingency plans are  wide ranging but ultimately the ability to pivot will be valuable”, Coach Schmitt says. “From a planning standpoint, the ability to improvise and adapt is one of the most important qualities of coaches, and this time continues to prove that. On a much larger scale, our players are dealing with the turbulent times of a global pandemic and a social justice movement. Our staff has worked to connect with our players and continue to be a presence in their lives. This time has reinforced the idea that we play a much greater role than just football coaches”, the Cavaliers coach continued.

Coach D’Amico remarks, “I think the key for planning for the unknown is flexibility. Most of the (more successful) coaches have highly structured lives and schedules, and the ability to adapt to that structure and be flexible is critical”. Coach Luthe is both an optimist and a realist, “You prepare like you do any season, but we will have a constant uneasiness knowing this season could end at any time”. Coach Sule laments on the uncertainty, “Planning the season has become very challenging during these times, because there is no definitive start date for the 2020 season. During past summers, we typically aim to be in the best shape – mentally and physically. Because of Covid-19, we are not able to connect in person as we usually do”. Coach Feeney, whose Golden Elks won 12 games last season, is making the best of it, “We’ve done our best to be proactive throughout this event. We provided our guys with at-home workouts as well as stayed in touch with them on a personal level to keep an eye on overall well-being. It’s been difficult being removed from the guys like this considering I’m with them almost year round in some capacity”.

Coach Payne, coming off of a 11-1 season and the best in the program’s history opines, “There’s really no way to plan for something as unprecedented as this. Really, it’s a waiting game. We just need to have faith in the people making the decisions and hope it’s the right one. Let’s be honest, as much as football is a huge part of our lives, the safety of our kids is the only thing that should be in consideration. At this point, we can only take it day-to-day, and when and if that time comes, myself and my staff will do what we feel best for the players”.

Coach Dolch, who led the Seahawks to their best record in the program’s history last season, is ready to go, “I don’t think the current climate has had a huge impact on our approach. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a staff of professionals that takes a great deal of pride in their preparation. I think the biggest difference is trying to identify all of the possible scenarios and have a plan in place for each. If we are able to hit the field on August 12th, it will be business as usual, but if we’re operating on short notice or have a later start date, that will certainly have an impact. We will have to alter our install schedule to take into account how much our players can absorb in the allotted time and pinpoint exactly which plays/schemes fit our talent. At the end of the day, the goal is put our players in position to be successful and play fast no matter when that first game occurs”.

Most coaching staffs around the area, and around the country for that matter, have been introduced to a virtual world beyond the imagination of just six months ago. As both students and teachers, and the institution of education as a whole, learn to adapt to online learning, coaches and their staffs have had to do the same. Face-to face off-season meetings with staff have been replaced by Zoom meetings and Google Meet. With camps, 7-on-7s, and weightlifting sessions wiped out, the face-to-face communication between coaches and their players has been all eliminated, as well. But, as coaches do, they find ways to improve their team and become more efficient. The virtual world may accomplish both, albeit off the field, and no way to see any result just yet.

“I think the Zoom meetings have been a extremely effective tool that we otherwise wouldn’t have discovered or utilized had it not been for the pandemic. I’m old school, so I tend to favor the face-to-face, but the Zoom meetings have been very helpful in our preparation”, Coach Lewis said. “My approach has changed, not being able to be as hands-on as I would like with the team, but I’ve kept in touch with our players to ensure their well being during the pandemic”, said the Mustangs coach. Consider Coach D’Amico ‘old school’ as well, “There is nothing better than having the ability to teach and coach in person”, before adding, “As a coach, you have to make use of whatever is available to get your team ready”. Coach Duvall, who started started his tenure at Wilde Lake 48 years ago quips, “I’m not a Zoom guy, I want to see what your saying in person”.

Schmitt, who has been one of the top ten winningest coaches in the Baltimore area since beginning a successful four year run at Atholton in 2009, before taking over at Spalding adds, “We have spent more time talking football this season as an entire staff than any off-season I can remember. We have discovered some methods of communication and technology that we will carry for years to come. The in-person staff meeting is a challenge for many of our coaches due to jobs and family time. Now, the ability to connect as a staff and have multiple coaches sit in on different position meetings from the comfort of home has been beneficial. In many ways, due to the online meetings, we have become more prepared and efficient with our time”.  Sule says, “All of our meetings have occurred virtually through Zoom. Zoom has afforded us an opportunity to connect and communicate daily during the quarantine”.

Payne has found solace in the virtual meetings as well, “Our kids have the best time when we meet. They like to crack on each other and talk to each other. I can tell they’re excited to see each other, and us as coaches are too. They know it’s that time of the year. They are anxious. They have concerns. They love football just like I do. And, for the first time, I don’t have answers for them. I told them in the last meeting, there was a time when young men didn’t have spring workouts. There was a time when there were no 7-on-7s, no personal trainers, no access to the weight room, and there were some very good football players ready to play every August 15th. Every single year since football originated. Back in my day, most of us played a spring sport, so there was no football training or workouts. In the summer, we’d wake up for a run, ride your bike to your friends house, go to the pool, then head up to the weight room, where we really didn’t have any program, we just lifted. The serious players would work on a little footwork, but we ‘hooped’ when and wherever we could. That was our summer program! And that program sent a lot of players to college to play football. So, the ones that ‘love it’ will do whatever it takes to be ready when the time comes”.

Dolch said that his staff has had more meetings than other years, and stresses the importance communication has, “I’ve spent a few hours each of the last two nights having conversations with my staff to work through the most current guidelines and plot the best course of action for the remainder of the offseason. Communication is always key. The only change is how we’ve had to do that virtually. Most of our staff has set up makeshift offices in their homes so that we can continue to exchange ideas. Some of our significant others aren’t too thrilled about the number of holes being put in the walls to hang whiteboards”.

While coaches have found ways to improve communication and preparation, the jury is still out on wether their players have applied the same amount of ingenuity as their mentors, but Schmitt points out, “The intrinsically motivated players are finding a way to get better right now”. Nonetheless, conditioning and continuity have to be concerns after such a long layoff, with team lifts, camps, 7-on-7s, and other face-to-face meetings eliminated over the last three months.

Sule poses questions coaches will have, “This pandemic has created so many unknowns in the world of football this season. Without camps, 7-on-7s, and workouts, there will be some onus on students/parents to make sure they are preparing themselves for all the possibilities surrounding this upcoming season. Will students be in the best mental/physical shape when the season starts? Are senior players/parents currently educating themselves on the schools that could be a potential best fit? Are players/parents communicating with their high school coaches to see if they are doing everything possible to find the best academic and athletic fit for colleges? Is it D1, D2,D3 or JUCO? Also, what happens if there is no season this fall? We had a lot of players on our team who missed an essential sport this past spring. These players have already dealt with  the difficulties of not having a season. How will we deal with this crushing news if this were to take place during our season?  All these conversations should be taking place with the absence of camps, workouts, and 7-on-7’s”. Dolce adds, “Teams may have to condense the playbook early on, but it’s all about teaching the kids how to do things well and control what we can, which is our effort and technique”.

Despite the ‘lockdown’, Schmitt hasn’t seen a drop in enthusiasm from his players, but instead found inspiration in his troops, “Our kids have been incredible and I am as proud of them as I have ever been. We’ve had over 80 players in our weekly team meeting. I’m confident they will be prepared if a quick restart occurs. They have embraced the weekly meeting schedule, taken advantage of virtual interaction and had some fun in the process. We also welcomed 35 freshman to our program virtually. This has been a valuable time for them to learn about our program and culture. I think this has been more beneficial for the incoming freshman then any of our previous spring seasons”. Fellow MIAA coach D’Amico, who will be entering his 25th year as a head coach in the MIAA, has seen the same amount of enthusiasm from his troops, “They are all ready to go. Younger people want to play, wiser older people need to make sure that is possible”.

Sule, coming off a 11-1 season with the Eagles, is using the advantages private schools have over his public school contemporaries, “We offer workouts for our players who do not have access to gyms/equipment on  Mondays, Wednesday, and Fridays. We also meet as a team on Tuesdays and Thursdays to break down film from last year. Film sessions have been great because our incoming players have the opportunity to learn our schemes during our Q&A sessions at the end of film. A good thing that has come out of this pandemic are the relationships that have been formed during this time. I feel that our squad is closer now than ever before. Leaders have stepped out and made connections with others that they would have never made before. Players and coaches have also stepped outside of their comfort zones and, in the process, have developed new skills that will help them improve for this upcoming season”.

Lewis expected overall program numbers to rise this season, buoyed by an 8th grade class that just witnessed the Mustangs win their first share of a county championship, highlighted by the program’s first win over longtime Howard County power River Hill, and punctuated by the first playoff win in school history. “We’ve had 65-75 players (varsity & jv) every season since I’ve been head coach, and with last years success, I expected good numbers”. Luthe, who has gone 50-17 over the last six seasons at Liberty had the same lofty expectations, “Before the virus, we had more kids interested in playing football than any of my previous seven years here. E-mails have continued to show high interest. I hope that remains the same when we can actually start working out”.

While many of the coaches paint bright pictures in a dark room, participation numbers in high school football has fallen every year since its peak in 2008, with a model that forecasted less than 1,000,000 high school football players for the first time since the fall 1998 season. Only seven states saw high school participation numbers rise from 2008 through the 2018 season, while 13 states saw numbers fall by 20% or more. And now this.

Private school programs as a whole have certain advantages that their public contemporaries may not, including less rule limitations, particularly with startups and meetups, and from a socio-economic angle, their teams will likely have and have had easier access to not only computers and tablets, but weights and workout rooms, as well.

Marriotts Ridge, though a public school, isn’t one to pity when it comes to resources, as it sits in one of the more wealthier zip codes in Howard County, but weekly virtual team meetings aren’t happening, and schools are closed. “It’s (the pandemic) impacted our ability to prepare significantly. They (the players) have to be very creative in terms of their workout routines. It has tested their self discipline and our ability to prepare as a whole”, said Lewis, a former three-sport All-County selection at Oakland Mills in the 80s, and now a physical education teacher at Marriotts Ridge, who teaches weight training. Duvall goes further, “I’m concerned about the players health, both physically and mentally. They are not getting the prep they need. They don’t go outside and play”.

Dolch points out the disadvantage he and the other public school coaches face, “We’re not permitted to have any in-person contact or even football-specific virtual meetings at this time, so we’re really limited to pushing out resources (scheme presentations/videos, drill videos, workouts, etc.) and hoping our players take advantage of those safely. Accountability is a challenge right now, so we hope that those lessons have sunk in with players over the years. Arriving in the best shape possible when we get the green light to resume activities says a lot about the type of teammate you are. If football is important to them, and I believe it is, they’ll find a way to do that”.

Luthe points out it’s the ‘togetherness’ factor that he misses most, “Working with kids is what I’m missing most. I really enjoy getting into that weight room and getting to know my athletes. Our off-seasons have been very important to our team concept. The kids hang out with each other, talk to each other, and really become a team. I know they are missing each other, and I know they are starting to get together. I wish we could be involved, but will wait for the county’s directives and pick up where we left off. I’m hoping that it’s like when you see an old friend you haven’t seen in a while, where you fall in where you left off. I think the kids really need something to do”. Duvall chimes in, “Parents are tired of having their kids at home. They want them out and staying in condition, and getting positive training experiences”. Feeney adds, “Where some guys have maximized their time to improve their skill set, strength and conditioning, others have not. It’s a mixed bag. I never stopped utilizing our communication app though. There’s no getting away from my voice”! Feeney notes some worry, “I worry about careless behavior and disregarding protocols. They are teenagers and they don’t always think things through, as they think they are invincible. But, for the most part, they’ve seemed to be doing a great job”.

One possible disadvantage private school programs will tangle with this season is parents who may reconsider schooling options, with the costs of private schooling, without having the access to the day-to-day in-school resources that privates institutions can offer, to say nothing of the financial strain this nation’s economic downturn may have on families as D’Amico points out. “Many (parents) are concerned with paying tuition for a private school with no sports, and limited to online learning. I totally understand that concern, and I know the private schools are having many meetings to try and figure out that issue”, though he’s regularly receiving e-mails, text messages and videos from 8th grade prospects and their parents.

Aside from conditioning together, social distancing measures ruled out 7-on-7s, having a detrimental effect on the skill positions, with their familiarity and continuity. Lewis agrees, “Anytime you eliminate an avenue for players to improve its obviously not beneficial. I’m sure to some extent players have been working on their craft, but from a timing standpoint with their teammates, it will have a negative impact on development”. For Luthe, who will have a young team this season, the missed 7-on-7 time cost him the opportunity to evaluate his young talent, and place kids where they could succeed, based on that evaluation. “I’ll miss the fun of 7-on-7’s, we always have a good time. They are always an opportunity for us to hang out as a team and grow together”.

Like Luthe, Dolch loses his All-County quarterback and receiver, “Last year, I would have said the impact would be minimal. However, we are graduating a lot of firepower and will be counting on a young group to step up to the challenge. A normal offseason would have given our staff an opportunity to assess the talent we have returning and see how they react to a high level of competition. Whenever we do get back on the field, we will have to backtrack and teach all of the fundamentals and techniques that would have normally been covered by that point”.

Says Schmitt, “It will have an effect. Football is a recreation sport, and we cannot replace those days. 7-on-7 provides great benefit for our program, but I believe it’s become somewhat overrated in our off-season preparation. The biggest challenge is attempting to recreate teachable moments that 7-on-7 creates, allowing our staff to give our players immediate feedback on technique and scheme. Ultimately, if we ranked the off-season activity in order of importance, (it’d go) – weight room, conditioning, individual practices, team teach periods and overall culture building would come before 7-on-7”.

D’Amico’s not a big 7-on-7 guy either, “I would much rather have team teaching time and insert time with my players. 7-on-7 is overrated, and in my opinion, counter productive. First, there is no O and D line play, which, when you add that, changes the game. Secondly, you don’t defend the run. Lastly, most of the coaches look at it as competition, instead of insert situations, which puts the kids at risk for injury. So, I’ll pass on the 7-on-7”. Says Feeney, “I don’t think the impact (of not having 7-on-7s) will be too great on us as a team. We will get our installations done before week 1 and be ready to go. The obvious issue is the guys not getting a chance to camp and miss the opportunity to get on the radars of colleges and coaches”.

The elimination of college camps and college visits impacts recruiting greatly, as personal contacts becomes even more key, and individual camp-like workout videos and campus virtual tours, by drone or not, will have to do. Camps in June in a place like Columbus, may see 25 offers delivered in one day. In Maryland, this obstacle will affect more than 100 of the best players in the state.

Schmitt, who played four years at Maryland under Ralph Friedgen, and was a part of the last three Terrapins squads to win 10 games, doing it three straight years from ‘01-03, says of the impact the pandemic has had on recruiting, “The impact has been extreme and will likely continue into the fall. The biggest issue is college recruiting has evolved to a point that the in-person evaluation has been one of, if not the most important tool for college coaches. They have become reliant on it and this off-season created very uncomfortable circumstances. The Division I programs have seen a significant rise in commitments, as offered players have realized there opportunity for further evaluation and visits have been cancelled. Lower level programs have had the opportunity to become much more thorough in their early evaluation of players, but have reached a point where they can no longer gather information passed tape, transcript, recommendations and possible mini-workout videos. They are banking on a fall season to finalize their evaluations”.

Schmitt, who was part of Terrapins teams that advanced to the Orange Bowl in his freshman year, followed by blowout wins in the Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl in his sophomore and junior seasons, goes on, “For our program, spring recruiting was critical, as college programs were able to watch our players workout on Wednesday mornings where programs can see our uncommitted rising seniors, and our 2022 and 2023 players. My disappointment is for some of our rising seniors who I believe can play college football but did not have the opportunity to workout in person for college staffs. Our fingers are crossed that a season happens and they continue to build their resumes. We have some younger players with early offers who will have more chances in the future”.

Says Lewis, who played College Football Hall of Famer Tubby Raymond at Delaware adds, “Our rising seniors have had to endure a style of recruiting never seen before, which has been totally virtual. The 2021 class lost a lot of opportunities to prove themselves, with the college camps being cancelled”. Duvall says, “It has made it tough for colleges. High school coaches are getting a lot of phone calls, many with questions about character”.

As we go forward, and coaches have been able to bounce ideas off each other in this down time, and have had time to tweak schemes and formations like never before, the CEO’s element of risk management has yet to be tackled. As Seong Lae Kim quoted in his paper before the PMI Global Congress in 2012, “A likely event cannot be thought to be a unknown unknown because it is already identified, but the consequences may fall into the category of unknown unknowns” (Ogaard, 2009). The likely event is certain, as we’re living it, but it certainly hasn’t been identified in any meaningful way, and the consequences of playing contact sports have yet to be seen, at least here in Maryland.

In places in the south, like Texas, Florida, and Georgia, where social distancing guidelines haven’t been as stringent as those in the north, schools, counties and districts in all three states have had to shut down practices and workouts due to players testing positive for the virus, including a handful of counties in the ‘Peach State’. Both Texas and Florida are getting ravaged by the virus, with their seven-day averages of positive cases of COVID-19 jumped 84% and 86% this week, respectively. On Thursday, Houston in Harris County, which has one of the ten largest school systems in the country, had to shut down athletic activities until no earlier than July 13th because of the pandemic, while the Dallas school district (ISD) closed down things until no earlier than the 6th.

Both Lewis and Schmitt, have listened to parents concerns relating to safety, and understand completely, with both being parents themselves. Lewis offers, “I feel like you have to take all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of the players and coaches. Whatever protocols are developed, I think they need to be strictly adhered to. My biggest concern is for the safety and health of our players. If us having a season compromises our players safety and health, I’m not for having one until a vaccine is developed. Preparing for the unknown is always a difficult task, however, you must forge ahead despite the uncertainty”.

Schmitt adds, “I do not think there is a high school coach in the country that isn’t concerned with their players and staffs mental health. We have gone from seeing each other 5-6 days a week to complete isolation. The only way to handle this is by following the experts. Having faith in the Science and decision makers will continue to be our plan. Any other approach would be reckless on our part. There is not a parent in the country that is not uncomfortable with the unknown. Parent concerns are wide ranging, but the most notable is clearly what does their child’s learning environment look like in September”.

“Safety is our number one priority when dealing with children. My responsibility to adhere to whatever policies are mandated by our school, league, and local governing officials. Changes are inevitable when dealing with a pandemic, so I expect there to be some new norms moving forward for us. One thing has recently dawned on me is the idea of coaching in a mask. I know this would be very uncomfortable for me; however, this is something that I will have to accept in order to ensure the safety of my team. We all will have to learn how to operate in this ever changing time of Covid-19”, says Sule.

Payne, who saw the Knights’ boys basketball team having to shut down the season hours before competing in the MPSSAA Final Four in March, hopes thats the last shutdown he see’s this year is the last, but wants player safety first, “If playing football causes any type of risk, large or small, then we have to consider not playing the 2020 season, in my opinion. My greatest fear is for us to be cleared to play, and because of that, COVID-19 cases soar. I’d hate for the kids to have to shut it down like our basketball team did. We’ll be more conscientious of cleanliness, sanitation, hygiene, and other preventions suggested. Hell, we’ll play with masks and gloves on, if we have to. My guys will be ready to go August 12th wether the state is or not”. Dolce agreed, “There’s certainly concern over whether or not our players will have a chance to compete this fall. Your heart goes out to all of the senior spring athletes that missed out on the opportunity to play out their final season. That would be heartbreaking to see our players experience that as well”.

Feeney, like the others, will listen to the experts, “We are figuring it out daily. Now that we have been approved to start workouts we are taking every precaution to keep all of our players, coaches and families safe. I think if coaches put in the time and energy to have their teams ready, we should be fine. If the health professionals say we can play, than let’s strap up and play football. If not, we understand. It would be unfortunate but at the same time, life is more important than a game”.

Dolce points out the impact logistics play, “The key is staying up to date with the guidelines and making sure there is a firm plan in place to adhere to them. Player safety must take precedent over anything we hope to accomplish on the field. The last thing anybody wants is to put  a player’s health in jeopardy due to negligence. However, some of the measures we’ve seen that will need to be taken if football is to return this fall are very, very thorough. That’s obviously the right thing, but my concern is having the resources and infrastructure in place to make those things happen at our level”.

Even if things go on as scheduled, don’t expect teams to look like well-oiled machines by Labor Day, or even October 1, and while Schmitt doesn’t think think there will be a significant drop-off from a skill standpoint, he does issue this, “Early on, our concerns will be in properly acclimating our players back into football shape. That will need to be a careful process. Coaches will find a way to install offense and defense, but the difference will be in the non-obvious aspects of the game. Being solely focused on 7-on-7 and lineman drills doesn’t take into account special teams and situational football. Simplicity will likely be key as we work through an abbreviated work schedule”. Lewis adds, “I believe it (the lay-off) will have a negative impact on the quality of the game. The lack of preparation time, both individually and collectively, is going to be a lot to overcome”.

Says Luthe, “I think we may end up a couple weeks behind in our quality of play.  It may take a little longer for teams to get to their peak.  I think teams that have run the same offenses and defenses for multiple years will have an advantage.  I think the number of starters you return this year will have a greater impact than past season.  I think it will be challenging for coaches to get their “systems” up and running in a limited time period”.

As we approach the four month mark since Governor Hogan issued a State of Emergency declaration on March 5th, and pass 100 days since the MPSSAA shut down the post-season on March 12th, just hours before the boys and girls Final Four’s in basketball were to begin, questions still linger as to wether a fall sports season will take place. Though Maryland has seen somewhat positive numbers as it pertains to handling the virus that ravaged the area for three months, a decision on schooling, and by extension fall sports, won’t be made in a vacuum.

Though Maryland, Virginia and Delaware were three of the fourteen states that didn’t see a rise in their seven-day average of positive cases in the week ending Saturday, the havoc the pandemic is having on the south, southwest and the ‘heartland’ may play a critical role in the decision making in the ‘Free State’. Only two states saw an improvement in their seven day averages in the week ending Saturday – Connecticut and Rhode Island, leaving 98.6% of the country’s population not seeing a positive trend.

Governor Hogan and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon are expected to announce the re-opening plan for schools within two weeks from now, on July 10th or 11th, which should also address the future of the fall sports season. On Tuesday, the Maryland State Department of Education approved a request by MPSSAA and school superintendents to “give local school systems the flexibility to navigate county/city COVID-19 restrictions and administer interscholastic athletic opportunities based on local conditions,” according to a press release. Despite the waiver, it’s hard to imagine that most school systems in Maryland would not make a decision on a fall season collectively. Duvall says “We need to move with caution, but move”, though he puts the odds at “50/50” on having a football season. D’Amico is more optimistic, “100%, just not sure if it’ll be August 14th, September 14th, or October 14th”.

The best answer to any questions that pertain to this pandemic and what to expect in the future, wether that future is next week or next January, has seemed to be – “who knows”? Because, nobody does.

“We currently all have hope for a positive outcome on our upcoming season, but some major decisions are going to be made in the near future that may not go the way we want them due to the virus. Navigating through the football portion is challenging enough, but more importantly the concern for our kids off the field weighs heavy on a coach, teacher and administrator”, Schmitt concludes.

As an educator who just completed three months of what can be described as ‘spotty’ online learning at an ‘alternative school’, I wholeheartedly agree.

Sule sings music to the ears, “In the end, it will all be worth it if we can come back together and play Friday nights under the lights for our families, brothers, schools, and communities”. Ahhh, Friday night lights, until we meet again.

The Coaches of the Roundtable

Dom D’Amico (Mt St Joe) – D’Amico will be entering his 25th year as a head coach in the MIAA, and 29th overall, including four at Cardinal Dougherty in his hometown of Philadelphia. D’Amico stepped down after 24 seasons at McDonogh in 2017, and after a year hiatus, spent last season as the Defensive Coordinator at Franklin. D’Amico’s teams at McDonogh won or shared 4 MIAA A titles, and 4 MIAA B titles. D’Amico, who has an overall record of 173-98 in 28 seasons, including 149-74 at McDonogh, was named Baltimore Sun Coach of the Year in ‘00 and ‘13, following a pair of seasons where the Eagles went undefeated. D’Amico’s 149 wins ranks second among active coaches in the Baltimore area. D’Amico was named Philadelphia Catholic League Coach of the Year in ‘92 at Cardinal Dougherty. D’Amico’s 2013 Eagles finished #1 in the Baltimore Sun, highlighted by a 37-6 season-ending win over league rival Gilman. The 2013 Eagles won 9 of their 11 victories by 24 points or more. D’Amico played quarterback at North Catholic in Philly, before playing for Bruce Arians at Temple.

Ed Dolch (South River) – Dolch led the Seahawks to the Anne Arundel County championship and their first undefeated in regular history. The Seahawks recorded just their second 10 win season in the program’s history, and posted the best overall record at 10-1. The ‘Hawks averaged 43.9 points per game last season, ranking 4th among 180 teams in the MPSSAA. Dolch’s troops set school records in scoring and offensive yards, and scored 30 points or more in all 10 wins. In 2018, Dolch led the Seahawks to their first post-season win 32 years, upsetting then 10-0 Broadneck, the county champions. In ‘19, won their second playoff game in two seasons, after winning just two post-season games in the program’s first 40 years. Dolch played for D’Amico at McDonogh.

Doug Duvall (Wilde Lake*) – The former Wildecats leader ranks second all-time in career wins in MPSSAA history, with 308, and joined John Havrill, who spent 44 years at Gaithersburg, as the only two MPSSAA coaches to surpass the 300 win mark. Duvall is one of just seven to win five state titles, and was the third to do it, following Bob Milloy and Al Thomas. Duvall won 17 county championships, and led the Wildecats to 15 playoff appearances. Duvall is just one of three coaches in MPSSAA history to win 200+ games and post a .775 win percentage or better. Duvall coached in the three most legendary games in Howard County history – Wilde Lake at Howard in ‘74, and the two meetings between his Wildecats and arch rival Oakland Mills in ‘77 and ‘78, the three largest attended games of any sport in county history. Duvall played at West Chester State, and was a grad assistant at Maryland, along with Ralph Friedgen, under Ray Lester. Duvall was inducted into the Maryland Football Coaches Hall of Fame in 2007, and adds Hall of Fame honors from both the Baltimore Touchdown Club and Washington Touchdown Club.

Matt Feeney (Elkton) – Feeney led Elkton to a UCBAC Chesapeake league title and 12-1 record last season, before suffering a heartbreaking 31-27 loss to eventual 2A state champion Middletown in the state semifinals. The Golden Elks averaged 44.7 points per game last season, ranking second in the MPSSAA. The Elks scored 31 or more points in all 12 wins, and scored 40 or more in 10 of 12. In six seasons, Feeney has led the Golden Elks to a 56-17 record, and his 52 victories over the last five seasons rank second in the Baltimore area in that time, one behind Dunbar’s Lawrence Smith, with 53. Feeney has led his alma mater to the post-season in each of the last five seasons, posting nine victories. Feeney played on the third Golden Elks team to advance to the post-season in ‘92, before going on to play at Salisbury. Feeney served as Defensive Coordinator for the Elks for two seasons before taking over at the helm.

Marcus Lewis (Marriotts Ridge) – Lewis led the Mustangs to a trio of historical firsts for the Mustangs last season – its first share of a county title in program history, it’s first win over longtime Howard County power River Hill in the team’s history, and its first post-season victory in the program’s history. Lewis was named as Ravens Coach of the Week as well as the Baltimore Touchdown Club Coach of the Week with the win over the Hawks. Lewis will be entering his 8th year as Head Coach, after eight years as an assistant for the Mustangs. Lewis also served as an assistant at Oakland Mills, Magruder, Woodlawn and Mt St Joe before coming to Marriotts Ridge. Lewis was a three-sport All-County selection for Oakland Mills, in football, basketball and baseball. In 1987, Lewis was named Howard County Offensive Player of the Year, playing quarterback, teaming with future Maryland Terrapin Andre Vaughn in the backfield. Lewis went on to play for College Football Hall of Fame honoree Tubby Raymond at Delaware, where he won two Yankee Conference titles in ‘91 and ‘92 and advanced to the NCAA D1 AA playoffs. Raymond was quoted as to saying, “Lewis is Mr Everything”, for the Blue Hens.

Larry Luthe (Liberty) – Seven years ago, Luthe inherited a program had never won a playoff game, and advanced to the post-season just twice. Since, he’s led the Lions to the playoffs five times, notching three post-season victories. Over the last six seasons, Luthe has posted a 50-17 record. Luthe led the Lions to a Carroll County championship in 2016, it’s first since 2000, then did again in 2018. Luthe was named Carroll County Coach of the Year in both of those seasons. Luthe was head coach at his alma mater Mt Hebron for ten seasons, winning Howard County Coach of the Year in 2001 and 2003. In 2003, Luthe led the Vikings to their first playoff appearance since 1982, when Luthe was an all-county defensive back for the Class C state runner-up Vikings. As a sophomore, Luthe led the Vikes to the state semifinals, playing quarterback. Luthe played at Widener College, before becoming an assistant under Joe Russo at Hammond, where he stayed 11 seasons.

Justin Payne (Parkville) – Payne led the Knights to their best season in school history last year, finishing 11-1, and earning their first two post-season victories in school history. Payne was named the Baltimore Sun Coach of the Year, as well as the Baltimore Ravens High School Coach of the Year, the latter sending him to the NFL Pro Bowl as a Don Shula High School Coach of the Year nominee. His Knights averaged more than 35 points per game, while recording four shutouts. Payne has a .600 winning percentage in his five years at Parkville, after inheriting a team that went 0-10 the year before he arrived. Payne played scholastically at Oakland Mills (with Lewis in ‘87), where he was part of county championship team as a junior, before being named All-Met at linebacker as a senior for the Scorpions. Payne then went on to Montgomery Community College, and was part of a Fightin’ Knights team who advanced to the NJCAA title game, before finishing his career at Towson.

Kyle Schmitt (Spalding) – Schmitt will be entering his eighth year at Spalding, following four successful years at Atholton. Schmitt has a .608 win percentage at Spalding, where he took over the Cavaliers in their MIAA A infancy, and has turned the program into a perennial league contender, and one who competes against top-notch competition outside of league play. At Atholton, Schmitt recorded a 38-9 record, posting a .809 win percentage, which would qualify as the best win percentage in county history, but fell 13 games short of qualifying. Schmitt ranks among the top 10 winningest coaches (83-38-1) in the Baltimore area since beginning his coaching career in 2009. Served as a grad assistant for two years at his alma mater at Maryland. Schmitt played his scholastic career at Derry Area High School, 35 miles outside of Pittsburgh, before heading to College Park, and completing a four year career under Ralph Friedgen. Schmitt played 48 games at guard and center for the Terrapins, starting in 27 outings. Schmitt played for the last three Terrapins teams that won at least 10 games in a season from ‘01-03, finishing ranked among the nations top 25 in each of the three campaigns. Schmitt played in NFL Europe, after spending the 2005 training camp with the Minnesota Vikings, and before spending the 2006 training camp with the Arizona Cardinals.

Hakeem Sule (McDonogh) – Sule led the Eagles to the MIAA A regular season title and a 11-1 record. It was just the second time in the program’s history that the Eagles finished with an undefeated record in the regular season competing in the A conference. The Eagles averaged 33 points per game, and held opponents to 8 points or less in 7 of their 11 wins. Sule was an assistant to his former coach, D’Amico, for eight seasons in Owings Mills before replacing his mentor in 2018. Sule was a All-MIAA linebacker for the Eagles in 2004, and won the McCormick Unsung Heroes Award, which recognizes unheralded teamwork and sportsmanship among Baltimore area high school athletes. Sule played at the University of Maryland under Ralph Friedgen, while Schmitt was a grad assistant.

Willie Sean Coughlan
Willie Sean Coughlan

HS Sports Analyst

Willie, a native of Chicago, and now a resident of Columbia for 40 years, is an educator at Homewood Center in Howard County, after spending 12 years as a real estate agent, following 10 years of running a small men’s retail company. Willie has contributed to Max Preps, Digital Sports, and Varsity Sports Network. Willie has produced MPSSAA top 25 rankings for both football and basketball for 15 years, across various platforms. From a large ‘sports family’, Willie’s brother Mike led Reservoir High to the 3A basketball state title game in 2018, while his nephew Anthony serves as the Indianapolis Colts College Scouting Coordinator.