After Gilman defeated Archbishop Spalding 48-7 last Friday, head coach Biff Poggi put out an invitation to his team's “Competition Tuesday” practice. I decided to take him up on his offer, just to see how the #1 team in Maryland compete against one another.
It was nothing less than entertaining but strictly business.
Coach Poggi starts every practice with a prayer by one of his players. Before they conduct any drills, any workouts, any plays, someone must say the prayer.
From there I realized this wasn't just a football team, it was a family. Like most top tier programs, you must develop a culture, and coach Poggi's definitely has built a great one at the Baltimore all-boys school. Coach Poggi preaches faith and family as the most important values in life, which translate on to the field.
A former player at Gilman School, coach Poggi played his collegiate ball at the University of Pittsburgh with the likes of Dan Marino and ESPN correspondent, Mark May. He has been head coach of the Greyhounds since 1996, and in that time frame he has sent countless players to Division-1 schools, including his sons, Jim (Iowa), Sam (Duke), and Henry (Michigan).
But this team is one that he thinks could be his best ever.
Before the prayer, he told the team a story of about a text messages he received Friday Night after Dematha loss to Gonzaga, which left the #1 spot in Maryland wide open for the Greyhounds. In a congratulatory way, the text message read, “HEY! YOUR #1 IN THE STATE! #10 IN THE COUNTRY!
After he read the message he deleted it, telling his team those rankings don't matter. We all have seen how great teams have hiccups before the job is complete. Coach Poggi explained to his team that he does not want that for his squad. He expressed to them that no rankings matter until the job is finished, and they must continue to work hard.
The 7-1 Greyhounds got the message loud and clear.
Watching them practice, I can tell how focused they were. During their Inside drill -- which is offense v. defense all inside running plays -- the O-line and D-line went at it. The star of the drill was future Nittany Lion defensive tackle, Ellison Jordan. Jordan was running through double teams and smashing the ball carrier each paly. After one big hit, one of the coaches had to pull Jordan to the side and tell him to take it easy on his teammates.
Watching Jordan play, you'll see a lot of anger and aggression but once you talk to him, he is a well-spoken mild-mannered young man, but most importantly humble.
“I'm a humble dude, so I don't really talk about my own game,” Jordan said after I asked him to describe his style of play. “It don't matter what your star rating is, how many offers you have, [where] you rank, you gotta work.”
Jordan will be joining Shane Simmons on the defensive line for the Nittany Lions which could be trouble for the rest of the Big Ten.
Gilman's offensive line is not a pushover though, reason why I was shocked with how much Jordan stayed in the backfield. Gilman's offensive line average weight is close to 300lbs. They have four players that will be at Division-1 schools next year. Devery Henderson (6'7 290lbs) will attend Michigan, Stephen Spanellis (6'5 320lbs) will attend Virginia, Wes Mehl (6'3 280lbs) is headed to Navy, and Stewart Keehner (6'4 280lbs) will attend Georgetown
What I found most intriguing about this group is how quiet they were during practice, but when it came time to use those pads, you could hear them from Northern Parkway.
I've never seen an offensive line in high school this big, and I would say they are the #1 reason why this team is so dominant. The skilled players such as Kasim Hill, Dorian Maddox, Kory Stephens, and Thomas Booker are able make plays because this offensive line of quiet giants is clearing out space.
Another skilled player, Antonio Dupree also impressed me. Dupree during the inside drill showed great vision cutting through the holes, hitting the secondary before anyone could get a hand on him. Coach Poggi said that Dupree will make someone very happy at the next level because of his old school running style.
“The Blue and Gray means everything to me,” Dupree said about how much he love playing for Gilman. “We built a bond and that's the [brotherhood], the brotherhood is very strong here. We go through the hardships and the easy, so why not love it while you here?”
I would consider Dupree as the heart and soul of the team. Anytime it was time to move to the next drill, the first person you heard after the coache's whistle was Dupree, shouting “LET'S GO! We got work to do!”
To give you another idea of how focus this team, I asked quarterback Kasim Hill if he wanted to do an interview while he just tossing the ball back & forth with another player, and he asked me could he do it after practice. Hill wasn't being used in the drill and had time to do it, most kids would have did the interview even if they were in the middle of a drill.
I spoke with Hill's father, who also coaches on the team, and he was very humble when it came to his son. Unless you asked, you wouldn't know that Kasim was his son. Joe Hill coaches on the defensive backs and when I asked him about coaching his son, he said “I stay far away from the offense.”
Overall, it was great experience partaking in "Competition Tuesday." Most journalist and media persons wouldn't want to watch a team practice but that's where you find out what type of unit they are. Running backs coach Bill McGregor, who was head coach of DeMatha for 29 years before resigning in 2011, thanked me for coming out to watch and cover their team, but in my mind, I wanted to thank them.
Growing up less than ten miles from Gilman, it was a childhood dream to play for Gilman, but athletic ability isn't the only thing you need to attend the prestigious school, academics is even more important. So to gain the respect of the coaching staff and the players, was definitely a big win for Fan-I Sports.
Gilman next challenge will be Friendship Collegiate Academy (DC) this Friday, which should result in a victory. They have two more opponents after that, Calvert Hall and rival McDonogh.