The sights and sounds of early-season football practice under the hot summer sun could be seen and heard on August 13 as the Eagles attacked training camp with fervor in hopes of achieving big things in 2018.
Eagles players and coaches bounded onto the side fields alongside Edwin Raynor Boulevard shouting words of encouragement to each other across the turf as they cycled through stretches, running and drills following a morning of meetings and an afternoon of weight training.
The offseason preparation began in January, practice officially began on August 11, and the Eagles are fired up to get the season underway.
Despite graduating a whopping 25 seniors — 14 of them starters — from last year’s team, third-year coach Brian Baublitz believes the players are collectively ready to step up.
“We have a lot of holes to fill, but a lot of talent to fill those holes,” said Baublitz. “The only thing concerning to our staff right now is depth. The starting 22 on offense and defense, I think we’ll be able to play with anybody. Staying healthy will be key.”
The Eagles went 3-7 in 2016 and 4-6 last year, and they hope to add to the win total and hang around the playoff conversation by relying on a mix of up-and-comers, proven rising seniors and former role players with breakout potential.
Leading the offensive unit is sophomore quarterback Riley Pitt, who gained varsity experience as a freshman last season and enters camp this fall with increased confidence and a noticeably bulked-up physique.
“Our only returner in the backfield is our sophomore quarterback, Riley Pitt,” said Baublitz. “He’s going to be real, real special. He already is, and he’s got two more years of development. So we’re excited about that. You can see him develop and take more of a leadership role as a sophomore.”
Despite graduating the incomparable backfield speedster duo of Davon Carroll and Demontay Snowden, Baublitz has only a slight downgrade in speed and a significant increase in size with rushers Bennett Diaz and Josh Krcik. Look for Diaz to get the bulk of carries with Krcik, who is converting from wideout to running back, providing change-of-pace explosion and playmaking ability.
“Bennett was a backup running back last year, and the only game he came in for Demontay last year, he had 10 rushes for 110 yards against Broadneck,” said Baublitz. “We’re excited to turn the reigns over to him. And then we converted Josh from our wide receiver position into the other wing [in the backfield]. Speed-wise, we’ll be a little bit down from last year, but [Davon and Demontay] were little guys. Bennett and Josh are both 6 feet, 6-1, 180-, 190-lbs, and they’ll punish you. We might not get the home runs we did last year, but our offense is more effective when we’re driving 10, 15 plays and pounding people and wearing people down.”
Returning senior offensive lineman Aiden Barnhardt will lead the line in opening up holes for the offense, while transfer Nick Vogel started at tackle for Glen Burnie last year. Centennial transfer Ethan Young will provide versatility and blocking at tailback.
Defensively, look for senior lineman Matt Wukitch to pressure opposing quarterbacks and snuff out opponents’ running plays. Pitt will play a two-way role as the team’s starting free safety, and Krcik will also play both sides as the team’s starting cornerback along with Danny Baker.
Krcik and Baker are both members of the exclusive Elite Eagles club for reaching difficult benchmarks in six categories — vertical leap, pro agility run, 40-yard dash, bench press, broad jump and squat — a status achieved only by graduate Brandon “Tank” Choinski last season in Baublitz’s three years leading the program.
High praise from Baublitz suggests opposing teams will throw down the field at their peril.
“Through my years at Old Mill, Spalding, AACS and here, [Josh and Danny are] the best set of corners I’ve had,” said Baublitz.
Krcik is one of many Eagles who will be asked to play both sides of the ball, a demanding reality for players coming from the slightly smaller pond of a 3A school, but he said the Eagles are unfazed by the challenge of playing both offense and defense.
“It’s a mindset,” said Krcik. “You’ve got to come in to the game with a dog mentality. You’ve got to want to make plays for your team. For us that are going both ways, I feel we can do that.”
Krcik added that the team built camaraderie throughout the offseason and summer by, among other things, talking to each other about shining both on and off the field.
“A way to keep the program excelling as much as we can is just working as hard as we can in everything we do, on the field and off the field, and being a better person,” Krcik said.
Baublitz noted the strength of the freshman class and how that will play out for an aspiring JV team, or “developmental squad,” as the Eagles call it, which will rely heavily on its freshmen, as many sophomores are called into varsity duty.
Diaz cited the team’s participation in intense offseason training regimens such as the 13,000-yard club and weightlifting sessions and believes the team can surprise people this season through a combination of hard work and desire.
“[We trained] constantly, all year,” said Diaz. “We’ve got to work hard in this training camp we have. These next two weeks are going to show who has the will and the heart to fight for the team and ultimately go to the playoffs and championship. … The heart has to be there this year. Some of us have big shoes to fill. We’ve got to prove that we can hold up, prepare and be ready to fight for the guys on the line, the guys on the sideline, the fans watching us, everybody, all year.”