SUITLAND – The Suitland High School football team does not plan to concentrate on last year’s season-ending loss but instead use it as motivation in preparation of being primed for a stronger comeback season.
The Rams finished the 2018 season with an impressive 8-2 overall record, suffering both losses against Charles H. Flowers in close contests.
First, Suitland fell to the Jaguars on Oct. 19 by a touchdown. They would meet again in the first round of the 4A state playoffs, and once again, Suitland fell, getting shutout by the Flowers defense, 6-0, to end their season.
Marcus Johnson, who plays at defensive tackle, center and guard, said high expectations are set for the upcoming season as the senior steps into a leadership role, striving to end his career at Suitland on a positive note.
“Staying focused, bonding, everybody stepping up, everybody being mature,” were a few of the areas that Johnson felt he and his teammates paid particular attention to as a new season looms ahead.
“It’s not easy being a leader. Everybody can’t be a leader so I gotta push myself and ask coaches for mistakes, what (I would do in this situation or that situation)…but I’m ready for whatever,” Johnson said.
The coaching staff urged the team not to make excuses, showing up to practices and workouts on time and giving 100% effort, linebacker Joseph Martin said. Suitland’s campus community, opponents and fans “should expect hard-working young men to come on to the field and give it their all every game, every play no matter the consequence or the situation that we’re in,” Martin said.
“Like if we’re down and we’re losing, we’re still going to give 100% because we don’t quit.” Martin said.
Suitland will be losing the majority of their offense with the departure of standout running back Armani Wooden. The 6-foot tailback finished his regular season with the Rams averaging 6.9 yards per carry, rushing for 882 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns. His rushing partner, Christian Sloan, finished his senior campaign running for 250 yards in seven games played.
Running back Aaron Robinson was one of the Suitland’s key contributors from last season and will be relied upon as a primary rusher to fill in at the running back position after the departure of former standouts Wooden and Sloan. In 2018, the five-foot-seven senior carried the ball 22 times and totaled 160 yards rushing for three touchdowns.
The Rams will lean on quarterback Damien Partee to take the lead on and off the field. The 6-foot-2 quarterback will be entering his second season as the starter after he finished the 2018 regular season throwing for 722 passing yards, four throwing touchdowns, five rushing scores and two interceptions.
Calling last year’s playoff loss a learning experience, the senior said becoming a leader and bringing more intensity to the field will be his primary focuses heading into the new season.
“We learn from it, so certain things we know we can’t do. We have to bring more intensity, and we must be more focused. We learned from it. I think we’ll be ready this year,” Partee said. “I have to be a vocal leader and a physical leader, on the field and off the field. We definitely want to bring the intensity. We’re known as a team that never quits, that never gives up. No matter how hard we always overcome adversity. That’s definitely the focus for the season – intensity.”
Furthermore, the Rams lose defensive tackles Leonard Scott and William Valentine on the defensive side of the ball, both of whom Head Coach Ed Shields regarded as key losses.
According to the coaching staff, Martin will be the lynchpin for the Rams defense. The linebacker was third in tackles last season (39) and will be leading a unit that only allowed 45 points all season and shutout four of their opponents. Together with Johnson, Martin will be leading a defensive side that its players will finally have more playing time than years prior.
The Rams may encounter a few challenges on its quest to another strong regular season in addition to postseason success. According to Shields, Suitland expects to field a small roster of only 25 players as they did last year, forcing many players to play both sides of the ball.
“Really just getting the guys in shape, teaching them what they need to (know), making sure that they have the discipline in carrying out assignments – defensively, offensively, special teams-wise, so that’s really the grand focus; can we do what we need to do to carry out assignments,” Shields said.
Meanwhile, their field is not in playable condition, so they will once again play the majority of their “home” night games at other locations in the county with turf fields and lights. When asked about his home field situation, Shields said, with a chuckle, that at the end of the day, it is a football game and to win, you have to play.
“You know, obviously everyone would like to play at home,” Shields said. “However, we’re asking the guys for the mental toughness to say ‘it doesn’t matter where we play.’ If they drop us in the middle of Alaska on the ice, we got to be able to go, and if we take that mentality, then it really won’t matter where we play.”
Though the program may be faced with numerous challenges and obstacles, the coaching staff and players have found ways to emerge as one of the tougher, most resilient teams in the area and continue that trend heading into this season.
“We’re not the biggest team, but we got to play anyway. We’ve gotta find ways to overcome that and the only way we do that is by hustling every play and every down,” Shields said. “Our theme is that we have to overcome, we’re going to have challenges, but just like in life we have to overcome.”
The Rams will participate in a four-way scrimmage on Aug. 23 against River Hill High School (Clarksville), Damascus High School and Frederick Douglass High School before the start of the season.
Suitland will open the year at Parkdale High School on Sept. 6.