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FB Preview -- Hubs march back into Antietam

September 02, 2009|By BOB PARASILITI/bobp@herald-mail.com

The North Hagerstown football team proved that you can actually go home again.

After spending a couple of years in the MVAL Piedmont, the Hubs return to their roots this year by rejoining the MVAL Antietam this season.

How good or how bad that will become for North is yet to be seen.

"It's not that bad," said North coach Danny Cunningham. "We will be playing many of the schools that we played the last two seasons, so it will be like we belong to two leagues."

Returning to the Antietam has its economical and logistical benefits for North, but it could hamper the Hubs' drive for a playoff bid. Basically, the Antietam is now an all-Washington County league while the Piedmont is an all-Frederick County league.

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North Hagerstown is rated as a Class 2A school while the majority of the Antietam is Class 1A. Only South Hagerstown, which comes back to the Antietam with North, is bigger, now ranked as a Class 3A school.

In football, playing smaller schools has its implications. The premise is the bigger school should always beat the lower classificated school, so the bigger the school the more points and bonus points it is worth for playoff ratings.

North gets help by playing some old foes.

The Antietam is now a five-team league, meaning North will play Williamsport, Smithsburg, Boonsboro and South, opening the door for six outside games.

"We will be playing Middletown, Frederick and Walkersville again this year, so that will help," Cunningham said.

Those three members of the Piedmont will be bolstered by Thomas Johnson, a Class 4A school, in the season opener. A win in that game could be a huge boost in the Hubs' hopes for the playoffs.

"We have a chance to be pretty good," Cunningham said. "It will take a couple of weeks to see how good we will be."

That's how the Hubs roll

Heights and weights are the measurements that are listed on team rosters.

For North, that probably should include miles per hour.

"This is probably the quickest team I have had, hands down," Cunningham said.

That might be saying a lot. It wasn't so long ago that North had a speedy team, which included running backs Bryan Slater and Rigo Valentin, receiver Quielan Gantt and defensive end John Kline and went to the state playoffs.

The Hubs hope speed kills their opponents.

The leader of the pack is running back Anthony Winter, who will be a multiple threat. Winter, a junior, ran a 4.48 second 40-yard dash during the summer. He could line up as a running back, slot receiver or even a quarterback, just to confuse opposing defenses.

On the outside, more speed comes in the form of Joe Mattei, who will be bringing over some speed from the basketball court.

There is more quickness on North's defense.

Alex Wolters is back for his third season at nose guard while Mike linebacker Greg Pheabus gets some of his quickness from his ability to read offenses and make adjustments. A.J. Staley and Corey Carpenter will give North a formidable group at linebacker.

"We have so many weapons, it will take a little time for them to learn their roles," Cunningham said.

Rebooting

Zach Leazier isn't trying to put his best foot forward.

Just a different part of it.

Leazier returns to the Hubs with designs of adding his name to the list of successful kickers at North. It took a lot of work.

"Zach attended a lot of camps this summer and has changed from kicking straight on to soccer style," Cunningham said. "So far, he's done well."

Kicking is a forgotten part of the high school game. Many times, place kicking can make the difference between one more win or one more loss in a season.

And with the Hubs hanging right on the edge, one game could mean a lot.

Learning process

North's 2008 season was a saga in injuries and growing pains.

Many players, many who were elevated to starting spots long before projected, got a lot of playing time. It cost the Hubs some victories, but it became the starting point for this season and quite possibly next.

The Baltimore Orioles could take a few lessons from the Hubs.

"We had a lot of young kids play a lot of downs last year," Cunningham said. "We were 3-7 last year, but it wasn't a failure. It was a learning experience and now we have a new season.

"Sometimes you have to take a step back before you can go forward."

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