UPPER MARLBORO – Heading into the 2018 season, the Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School football team was the talk of the sporting landscape in the state, coming in with one of the longest winning streaks in the nation and looking for a chance to win its fourth consecutive Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association (MPSSAA) state title.
By December, Wise was finally defeated by Calvert Hall College High School, ending their winning streak at 43 games. The Pumas were also eliminated in the state semifinals by Quince Orchard High School which completed the year without a title; QO delivered a “knockout blow” to the Wise players, Head Coach DaLawn Parrish said.
After an offseason of reflection and preparation, the Pumas are ready to make their comeback.
“When you lose, you cannot wait for the next fight,” Parrish said. “When you play sports, it is just like life: Once you get knocked down, you have to get back up.”
Motivated by their disappointments from last season, the 13-year coach and his Puma players arrived at camp excited to show that last season was an anomaly.
With a team filled with youth, but also experience, the Upper Marlboro-based school is prepared to continue its dominance over the county’s best counterparts as it moved towards its goals to win their fifth state title in this decade.
Coming into the offseason, there was a lot of reshuffling in the Pumas lineup. In total, 25 players graduated out of the program, leaving Parrish in a position he had been in for half a decade which was retooling a once stacked roster. However, the end of the streak relieved the pressure from previous seasons and allowed Wise a chance to take a breather during an offseason, the Pumas head coach said.
“When you have as much success as we have and you come short of your goal, you kind of reset yourself; you look forward to the next season,” Parrish said. “The old cliché ‘you are only good as your last game,’ and we have had to live with that the whole offseason and figure out ways that we can get better and reset. We can sit back and look at things that went wrong. All of us, the coaching staff, players, and just work on getting better.”
Once the school year was over, the rebuild began with 7-on-7 play over the summer and looking at who is ready to take the next step and make leadership roles on the Pumas roster.
With the departure of former quarterback Quinton Williams, Parrish has yet to name his starter at quarterback, waiting to see how everyone performed in training camp before their first contest against Eleanor Roosevelt on Sept. 6. There are three players listed as a quarterback on Wise’s current roster, including the return of senior Kiysean Clardy and sophomore Jayden Sauray.
However, Parrish confirmed the transfer of senior quarterback Jackson Greenleaf. Last listed at 5-foot-10, the right-handed gunslinger was one of the key pieces for the Bullis School last season as they finished a 7-3 record with a berth into the Interstate Athletic Conference (IAC) Championships.
“He is a Puma,” Parrish said. “He is a great athlete; his work ethic has been outstanding, and he has been working out this offseason. He has done a great job.”
Junior wide receiver Jalil Farooq, who is known as the team’s top athlete, is excited that Parrish opened up the quarterback competition. While he said he loves the addition of Greenleaf, the 6-foot-1, 190-pound wide receiver acknowledged his growing partnership with Sauray, who played on the junior varsity for half of the season last year before being called up to be one of the backups for Williams.
Whoever the quarterback is, Farooq will be their top target. The junior excelled as the No. 2 option in Wise’s passing game last year, collecting 24 receptions for 624 yards and seven touchdowns. This season, he will transition into the No. 1 receiver role.
“A lot of people are doubting me right now, but I have a lot of confidence in me,” Farooq said. “I have a lot of confidence and every bit of me, I believe in…I consider myself an athlete, and I feel like I can play any position on the field.”
In the running game, Parrish said the emergence of junior Joseph Johnson, someone who he coached as a JV player, will add more to the running game after he was academically ineligible last season. He will be paired up with the returning Anthony Morales who rushed for 218 yards and three touchdowns last season.
With all the attention to be garnered by the offense, the defense is solid with veteran experience and players already receiving college attention.
Before the start of training camp, Parrish announced senior middle linebacker Tracey White as one of his captains. Last season, he finished second in the team with 82 tackles, averaging 6.8 per game. He leads a unit that allowed 102 points last year and ended nine of their 12 games only allowing eight points or less.
“No other team can compete with us when are playing to the best of our abilities,” White said. “Our defensive line is better now; without them, there is no pressure to quarterback and no pressure on the o-line. It is great to see boys in front of me that know how to do their job.”
One of those defensive linemen that look to cause offenses havoc this year is 6-foot, 320-pound defensive tackle Kamrin Porter, who will look to improve on his four sacks from last season.
In the secondary, Farooq will be in the backfield again this year, hoping to replicate last year’s success with two interceptions and one fumble recovery. He joins senior Dorian Strong, who will play the cornerback position — mainly used on special teams, the 6-foot, 160-pound Strong shown improvement in the offseason, earning a scholarship and committing to Virginia Tech.
“(Parrish) has helped many players in my position get to college especially big colleges,” Strong said, who admitted to having grade problems following the 2018 campaign, “I trusted everything in the Wise program is doing and I see where it got me. I am glad I accepted the process, and it is cool to be getting ready for the season.”
With all the changes for the upcoming season, expectations of winning a state title have not waivered, Parrish said. Since 2010, Wise has made five state championship berths and won four titles; setting a standard that any result without a championship at the end of the season is deemed a failure. Several players mentioned meeting that standard and enjoy seeing other teams saying this is their year to win.
Wise is ready for their comeback, so other teams better be ready.
“We are coming together, and we have more to prove coming off that losing season; we are coming more hungry,” Farooq said. “For everybody that is sleeping on Wise this year, keep sleeping.”