August 17, 2011
As players stretched and jogged through 90-degree heat at Sherwood Warriors training camp, head coach Mike Bonavia looked on in approval. “These kids love to work,” he said. “You could take our practice yesterday and put it up against anyone in the state.” Breaking the huddle with a primal scream, they shouted what could almost be deciphered as “pride” and scurried away to the far-flung corners of Bentley Memorial Field, Sherwood’s baseball field and football practice field, with cries of “I love hard work” echoing in the distance.
The Warriors will certainly need to do a lot of hard work this season to contend for a playoff spot in the new 4A East. Senior-heavy Paint Branch is the realigned division’s preseason top dog and a senior-depleted Sherwood squad has the division’s toughest schedule to deal with.
But those are certainly not the only challenges facing the Warriors. Marc Thomas’s January resignation means the fourth new coach in as many years. Sherwood graduated 21 starters from last season’s 10-2 squad. The 22nd starter, Ortiz Jones, transferred to Paint Branch.
Enter Mike Bonavia, Sherwood’s long-term solution to Al Thomas’s 2009 departure. A long time Thomas assistant at Damascus and Seneca Valley, Bonavia left in 1995 to take over a struggling Richard Montgomery program. He led the Rockets to three playoff appearances in 11 years then jumped to Einstein in 2005 where in his first season matched the Titans’ win total for the previous five years.
With only six returning seniors, Bonavia does not have much with which to work in 2011. Sherwood establishments Pete Siarkas and Chuck Oswald left for Good Counsel in the offseason and All-Gazette kicker Jake Ryder is the only high profile name Sherwood has floating around the county.
So to re-kindle the tradition of Sherwood excellence, Bonavia brought MoCo mainstays to practice with the team. Legendary Sherwood quarterback Deontay Twyman is a regular at practice working with junior quarterback Jordan Larsen. Renowned area coaches Terry Changuris and Bobby Windsor also visit a few times a week. For the most part, Bonavia sees upside in a team of upstarts.
“Playing 15 and 16 year-olds against 17 and 18 year-olds is a big difference. But I haven’t told the kids that because they expect to go win,” he said. “This is a JV team playing a varsity schedule. These kids are gonna be in the rights spots and they’re gonna sell every fiber in their body and to the best they can, but if you’re better than us, you’re gonna win this year and that’s the way it should be.”
Expectations are as low at Sherwood as they’ve been in a long time, but nonetheless that still means an active alumni and fan base expect a seventh consecutive 10-win season. That means Larsen will have to dazzle under center, Ryder will have to be automatic from within 40 yards and the defense will have to be as stout as ever.
Are those realistic expectations? Bonavia doesn’t quite know. Larsen looks solid and Ryder was hitting consistently from 51 yards in camp. The defense looks good on paper, but this team is still so young. After a few years he says, maybe even after this year, he’ll have a strong Senior Class and a program reminiscent of the Warriors’ undefeated 2008 State Championship team.
“We’re not gonna come out and shout about Sherwood and ‘hoo ha hoorah’ and ‘we’re the best’ everywhere we go,” he said. “But we will come out and shout out Warriors loud and proud because that’s a pride thing.”
It’s safe to say tradition never graduates with Stormin’ Warriors football.
Strengths: Sherwood has always been a fundamentally sound program that understands the finer points of football—one of those finer points in special teams. Ryder will kick and punt for the Warriors this year and should be in for another All-Gazette season.
Weaknesses: Coaches are making headway with the group of offensive and defensive lineman, but they might not be able to do enough. With only three seniors in the entire depth chart, inexperience might be the undoing of Larsen’s protection and Sherwood’s pass rush.
Wild Card: Larsen looks very comfortable and composed under center. His receiving corps in good enough, but his offensive line could be a problem. If he has time to throw this season, Larsen could make a name for himself.
Prediction: 7-3. The Warriors have to visit QO, Damascus and Paint Branch. I’m not sure any school in the county could go undefeated through that schedule. They’ll edge Gaithersburg in week three to get some momentum and burry Springbrook Oct. 14 to squeak into a remaining playoff spot.
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