High School

Two of Maryland's finest - Wise and Northwest - clash in the Maryland 4A Championship

Two of Maryland's finest - Wise and Northwest - clash in the Maryland 4A Championship

Wise and Northwest enter Friday’s championship game as two of the most successful Maryland public schools in recent years. They’ve combined to win six of the last seven Maryland 4A championships and on Friday they will meet to determine who wins the last of the decade.

In 2019 the Jags and Pumas successfully navigated through the 4A division, and although they’ve reached the same point, they’ve taken vastly different paths to get here.

Like a shiny new sports car, Wise (13-0) has zoomed past their competition, winning by an average margin of 42 points per game. Not only did they cruise through the regular season, but the Pumas have pounced on their last two playoff opponents, notching victories of 35-6 and 44-0, respectively. Wise is undefeated and for the most part unchallenged, which has caused some to question if Northwest (12-1) is the more battle-tested of the two teams,

“I don’t buy into that,” Wise coach Dalawn Parrish said. “We prepare situationally in practice. If you make your practice hellacious enough then your kids will be prepared for certain situations. We play the same teams we play every year. [Northwest] play teams from Montgomery County, we play teams from [Prince George].”

To the Pumas' credit, their strength schedule, or lack thereof did not seem to hinder them in previous campaigns. They’d won the Maryland state championship three years in a row before seeing that streak snapped last season. They’ve used that defeat as a driving force to get back to this point.

“Last year we lost to Quince Orchard in the semi-finals and that hurt— that hurt us bad,” Parrish said. “Our kids set out on a mission to make sure they’d never feel that way again. They committed to one another over the summer — working out, lifting weights, running and being together. This team has turned into a true family and they’re committed to sacrificing themselves to win”.

If the Pumas are an untouched two-seater, the Jags are more akin to an armored truck. At times they’ve been beaten, bruised and even fallen under attack, but through it all, they’ve been seemingly indestructible. They’ve had their share of blowouts, but they’ve also won close games, they’ve won with their defense, they’ve even tasted defeat, only to come back and exact revenge. The Jags have proven to be a team who can find a way to win no matter the situation, a quality Mike Neubeiser attributes to Northwest’s leadership and his student-athletes' commitment to the program.

“The kids really in with a new level of dedication this summer,” Neubiser, “We added two new coaches, Chris Samuels on offense and Bucky Clipper on defense. Together we developed a really sound system and the kids have been willing to work hard to win”.

Few outside of the Jags locker room expected Northwest to defeat Quince Orchard last week and potentially even less have picked them versus Wise. The slights don’t bother the Jags though, in fact they’ve used the them as gas for their championship run.

“Its motivation for our kids,” Neubeiser said. “For anyone to say, ‘you're not as good as the opponent’, it kind of motivates you—makes you want to prove that you are. Being the underdog again this week, where everyone says Wise is the ‘unbeatable team’ is motivating in itself. Not too many people are counting on us to win and I think that helps fuel the fire”.

If Wise is the favorite, they’ve gotten here by placing the goals of the team over any individual accolades. Despite having top-end recruits such as Jalil Farooq and Dorian Strong, the Pumas pride themselves on their ability to spread the ball around,

“We don’t have anybody with 1,000 rushing yards. We don’t have anybody with 1,000 receiving yards," Parrish said. “But what we do have is a collective of 2,200 rushing yards and a collective of 1,800 receiving yards. We are committed to sacrificing ourselves in order to achieve the goal of winning a championship.”

Northwest knows they don’t want to get into a shootout with the Pumas. Their plan for coming away victorious rests on their defense's ability to slow the Pumas attack.

“They are absolutely loaded [on offense],” Neubeiser said. “They do like to throw the ball around, but to beat them, you have to stop the run game. For us its about being fundamentally sound. Trying to get a rush and trying to get the quarterback a little uncomfortable. We have to establish the run ourselves to keep their offense off the field.”

The flash of the Pumas versus the grit of the Jags— two great programs with two very different styles. On Friday night, only one will walk away as the Maryland 4A champion.


Gonzaga QB Caleb Williams commits to play in 2021 All-American Bowl

Chad Ricardo/NBC Sports Washington

Gonzaga QB Caleb Williams commits to play in 2021 All-American Bowl

Gonzaga quarterback Caleb Williams has committed to play in the 2021 All-American Bowl.

Williams, a 5-star recruit, is largely considered the No. 1 ranked dual-threat QB in the nation. The 2018-19 Gatorade State Player of the Year (D.C.) is no stranger to big games. He led Gonzaga to the WCAC championship game as a freshman before helping the Eagles win the title as a sophomore. He’s had his eyes set on testing his talents in the bowl for some time now.

“I’ve always watched the game,” said Williams. “I always saw people like Trevor [Lawrence]. I always watched the highlights -- like Adrian Peterson being there -- so being able to join that family means a lot.”

Williams and his father attended the lead-up to the 2020 All-American Bowl earlier this month, where he had the opportunity to meet current and future participants. While there, he witnessed fellow DMV 5-star standout Bryan Bresee be honored as the national defensive student athlete of the year. Williams and others in his class then took in the game and all of its festivities from field-level. With the option of committing to play in any of the major all-star events, Williams chose the All-American Bowl because he feels participants were able to separate themselves from the competition.

“I chose the All-American Bowl because NBC and Adidas provided a stellar experience when I showed up.” said Williams. “Both sides were real professional, and I want to be a part of that.”

Williams was chosen for the game by the All-American Bowl selection committee and 247Sports. Only 100 of the top student athletes nationally will have such an opportunity. But for Williams, playing in the game has a meaning that stretches far past the white lines that outline even the largest of stadiums. He hopes his accomplishments affect more than just the game -- he wants to help the next wave of student athletes here at home.

“I believe success opens up doors for others and that’s really all I’m here for,” said Williams. “I’m here to have a successful career and open up doors for other kids in the DMV, because we don’t get as much credit as we really should.”

The twenty-first edition of the All-American Bowl will be played on January 2, 2021 in the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas.

Tristan Leigh of Robinson Secondary earns MVP honors at National Combine

Chad Ricardo

Tristan Leigh of Robinson Secondary earns MVP honors at National Combine

Offensive tackle Tristan Leigh, of Robinson Secondary School, earned MVP honors at the National Combine in San Antonio on January 3.

The National Combine is an annual event held to showcase the talent and abilities of the top underclassmen in the country. Participants are run through a gambit of drills testing their speed, agility and power, amongst other things, before competing in position specific 1-on-1’s.

With college scouts watching each rep and recruiting services measuring every movement, the process is daunting for some, but Leigh chose to embrace the moment.

“I wasn't nervous. I was really excited,” said Leigh. “The last time I had competition in football was the end of the season in October -- so my overall feeling was excitement to get out there and compete.”

Sharing the platform with over 600 student athletes, Leigh was head and shoulders above his peers. Standing at 6-foot-6, 270 pounds, he used his length, strength and athleticism to dominate the competition.

“When plays start, I flip a switch and go full speed 'til the whistle blows,” said Leigh. “I like to play really physical. In football, if you’re really physical when you go at someone, 75% of the time, they won’t want to play with you anymore.”

Leigh was so impressive, the combine selection committee unanimously chose him as their overall No. 1, a distinction not lost on the Fairfax student athlete.

“I feel very blessed and thankful,” said Leigh. “I was excited when they named me MVP. I appreciate the committee for selecting me from that big group of people. I’m going to just work harder from here.”

As a 4-star student athlete, Leigh entered the weekend a highly touted recruit, holding offers from powerhouse programs such as Alabama, LSU and Penn State. As a result of his performance at the National Combine, he has picked up five additional offers, raising his total to 24, and an invite to play in next year's All-American Bowl on NBC.

“This is definitely a dream come true. This is what I’ve wanted since elementary school,” said Leigh. “Football has always been my first love. I’m excited to go through this process and figure out where I want to go.”

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