HYATTSVILLE – After an eight-year hiatus, Bill McGregor – widely considered to be a DeMatha Catholic High School football legend – has returned to the program where he previously spent nearly three decades coaching and building a nationally acclaimed football powerhouse.
He is more than ready to lead the Stags to prominence in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) once again.
Over a 29-year tenure as head coach, McGregor led DeMatha to 17 WCAC championships with an overall record of 278-40-3, sent nearly 400 athletes to play Division I football and a few dozen went on to play professionally.
Following eight successful seasons with two highly ranked programs in Baltimore at Gilman School (five years) and St. Frances Academy (three years), the 70-year-old returns to DeMatha to take charge of the program again. He replaces former Head Coach Elijah Brooks, who is now the running backs coach at the University of Maryland.
“It’s great to be back here at DeMatha. I was really excited to come back and have the opportunity,” McGregor said. “I’m happy to be back, I’m glad to be back, I’m excited to be back and there’s not another place I’d rather be in the world than here at DeMatha High School.”
The Stags began practice officially on Aug. 1; their first day of running through drills in pads and helmets was on Aug. 7 in the school’s auxiliary gym because of inclement weather.
According to McGregor, the Stags enter the 2019 season with the ninth-toughest schedule in the country. His expectations for the year are the same it has been since he first began with the Hyattsville-based school in the early 1980s.
“Our goal every year is to win the WCAC football championship,” he said.
DeMatha finished 2018 with an 8-3 record, concluding its season in the most unimaginable way possible: falling to Gonzaga College High School in the WCAC Championship on a last-second Hail Mary pass into the end zone. While the loss was one of the most stunning upsets in high school football last year, McGregor said it is not something they will dwell on this year.
“It’s not about who we play, it’s about us. We gotta make sure our house is clean, and we do what we got to do to be successful,” he said.
Of the key pieces that moved on from last year, perhaps the biggest standouts were quarterback Eric Najarian (University of Maryland) and wide receiver Jermaine Johnson (UMass). While McGregor has not officially named a starting quarterback, but senior transfer Malakai Anthony looks poised to take on that assignment.
Anthony, a 6-foot-2 dual-threat talent, will conclude his high school career at DeMatha after a stellar junior year at Woodrow Wilson (Washington, D.C.) where he amassed 1,500 passing yards, 500 rushing yards and 20 total touchdowns.
Thus, key returning players like running back Marshawn Lloyd and offensive tackle Dwayne Allick will have increased leadership roles heading into the upcoming season.
Lloyd, who announced his commitment to the University of South Carolina during the offseason, will look to have a career year for the Stags. His best performance came when he rushed for 154 yards and scored four touchdowns in DeMatha’s triple-overtime victory over Gonzaga on Oct. 12.
“I do what I have to do and pretty much have everyone follow behind me,” said Lloyd, a 5-foot-10, 210-pound senior. “I’ve been here for four years, I’ve played varsity all four years, so being able to have this experience and having the younger guys follow me is something I’m really pushing for.”
Allick, a 6-foot-3, 300-pound offensive lineman, said this year’s offensive line had not seen drastic changes from last season. The championship loss to Gonzaga has motivated the team and highlighted what the key areas of improvement that were focused on in the first weeks of practice, the senior said.
“Our main focus is getting acclimated…just getting used to our plays, getting used to it as a unit and just focusing on one team at a time and executing every play the best that we can,” said Allick, a Boston College commit.
Defensively, the Stags also have considerable gaps to fill after losing defensive backs Nick Cross (University of Maryland) and DeMarcco Hellams (University of Alabama).
Standout inside linebacker Gregory Penn III is likely to emerge as one of the leaders for the defensive unit, in addition to senior defensive end Coziah Izzard, a Penn State University commit. They will look to fill into a defense that allowed on average 12 points per game in their eight wins last season.
“We got a lot of newcomers. The linemen are pretty much the same, but we got a lot of younger guys that need to take up positions like DeMarcco Hellams and Jermaine Johnson, Nick Cross,” Lloyd said. “So we got people that need to step up, and Coach (McGregor) has been trying to figure out who is the missing piece.”
Believing in and following the lead of McGregor will be crucial to the team’s success, Lloyd said. Already, the team has bought into the system he has implemented and are ready to compete for their new head coach.
“He’s been successful years on, he knows what he’s doing,” Lloyd said. “Pretty much we just have to follow what he’s doing, we have to trust, and everything will be great.”
The Stags enter the new season ranked No. 8 nationally and No. 3 in the state of Maryland by MaxPreps.
As part of the 2019 Geico High School Football Kickoff Classic, DeMatha will fly out to Los Angeles and open the season against No. 2-ranked St. John Bosco (Bellflower, Calif.) on Aug. 24 in a highly anticipated matchup that will be nationally televised on ESPN 2 at 9 p.m.
McGregor said he looks forward to the national recognition that continues to give prominence to the DeMatha football program.
“I’m excited about that because how many high school football teams go from the East Coast to the West Coast to play a game, get on an airplane, play against one of the top three teams in the country,” McGregor said. “I’m just honored to have that opportunity for our kids.”