Offensive Player of the Year: Darius Jennings, Gilman School

Of the many dazzling runs Gilman School quarterback Darius Jennings has broken over the last several seasons, there’s one that may best define him.

It was the second half of a huge match against DeMatha Catholic at the Unitas Stadium in late September and Jennings avoided a tackle and broke free down the right sidelines. The elusive speedster had just the end zone in front of him.

Then, boom. Stags defensive back Michael Williams, tracking Jennings like a heat seeking missile, leveled him out of bounds. Jennings’ helmet flew off. As Jennings got up to retrieve his helmet, Williams stalked a couple of yards behind him.

Jennings put his helmet back down and went back to the huddle. The next play, Jennings waltzed into the end zone untouched.

“He’s 175 [pounds] and looks like more like a cross country guy, but he’s tough as nails,” Gilman coach Biff Poggi said.

“You have to put your body on the line and give your all,” said Jennings. “Being a leader, I had to put forth all my effort and carried my team and force them to do the same.”

The main focus of opposing defenses, in addition to carrying the burden of being the area’s No. 1 college prospect, Jennings handled it all with a steely resolve. The Greyhounds senior quarterback is the inaugural Varsity Sports Network’s Offensive Player of the Year.

Jennings accumulated 2,203 yards from scrimmage and accounted for 25 touchdowns for the No. 2 Greyhounds who held the top-ranking in VSN’s Top 20 for most of the season. As a junior, In his first year as the Greyhounds’ full-time quarterback, Jennings rushed for 2,028 yards and 25 touchdowns, while throwing for 748 yards and 10 scores.

“I knew it was going to be tough repeat from the numbers that I put up last year,” said Jennings, who rushed for 1,569 yards and 19 touchdowns. “You just have to play as hard as you can and I hope for the best.”

The first time he touched the ball this season was the opening kickoff against Archbishop Spalding. He took it 88 yards for a touchdown. Jennings was just getting started.

The following week against defending Washington Catholic Athletic Conference champion Good Counsel, then-ranked No. 9 nationally by USA Today, rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown and threw for another in a 28-7 pounding.

Arguably his best performance came against DeMatha in a battle for the state’s No. 1 ranking. He rushed for 276 yards and two touchdowns in a 34-7 pounding of the perennial Mid-Atlantic and national powerhouse.

“He’s by far the best player in the state, I can’t imagine anybody better,” said DeMatha coach Bill McGregor, whose team was victimized by Jennings for more than 650 yards the last two seasons.  “You look at him, he’s nothing but skin and bones, but he’s tough as they come.”

“You’re going to carry the ball 25-30 times a game,” said Poggi of Gilman’s quarterback philosophy. “He [Jennings] didn’t miss a snap in four years and he took some punishment.”

Jennings, whose final college choices are the University of Maryland, Ohio State, UCLA, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, finished his four-year varsity career with a school-record 4,338 rushing yards and 53 touchdowns. He’s surpassed former Gilman quarterback Ambrose Wooden’s 4,033 rushing yards and 46 touchdowns.

Poggi has shied away from comparisons of Jennings and Wooden, who played defensive back at Notre Dame from 2004-2006. He said Jennings has left his mark.

“I really believe in all my heart as good as a player he is, and he’s a great player, he’s a better person,” Poggi said. “Being around him has been a positive for every kid in our program, all of our coaches and our school.”

adrian amosDefensive Player of the Year: Adrian Amos, Calvert Hall College

When he arrived at Calvert Hall College, Adrian Amos started thinking about making the football program revelant again.

“Ever since my freshman year, I’ve said by my junior and senior year we’re going to win the championship,” Amos said. “Not a lot of people believed me.”

Standing about 5-foot-2 and weighing 135 pounds as a freshman, Amos’ proclamation likely rung a little hollow. As Amos grew, the Cardinals began showing signs of a turnaround.

In 2010, Amos and Calvert Hall’s stature reached the nadir. The Cardinals claimed the MIAA A Conference championship and the No. 1 spot in the final Varsity Sports Network’s metro Top 20 poll with Amos spearheading the defense. The senior defensive back is the inaugural recipient of Varsity Sports Network’s Defensive Player of the Year Award.

Six-foot-1 and a chiseled 200 pounds, Amos, who played free safety, posted 78 tackles (34 solo, 44 assisted) with four interceptions and three forced fumbles. Cardinals coach Donald Davis said Amos was the straw to a potent defensive unit.

“He’s one of the few players who can take over a game, particularly from that far from the line of scrimmage,” said Davis. “To be able to snatch control from the safety position, down defensive linemen or ‘MIKE’ linebacker to be able control of game says a lot about of him as a player. His presence makes everybody better.”

Amos said the Cardinals’ season-opening win over St. John’s (D.C.) set a positive tone for their season. He thwarted a Cadet scoring drive with a 45-yard interception return, leading to a momentum-changing field goal before halftime.

Amos gave further evidence why he’s a game changer against Gilman School in the biggest game of the 2010 campaign. With his squad down 14-0 in the first half, Amos caught a 65-yard touchdown.

In the second half, Calvert Hall shutout Gilman’s offense and dynamic quarterback Darius Jennings (32 yards) to 52 yards total as the Cardinals rallied for a 26-21 before an overflow of 4,000 at Calvert Hall. Amos had an interception and a forced fumble.

“It was one of the finest performances I’ve ever seen in a football game,” said Davis, whose team along with New Jersey powerhouse Don Bosco Prep held Gilman without a second half point this season.

“We have a lot of playmakers on our defense,” said Amos, whose team allowed 125 points in 12 games this season. “Our defense strives on turnovers and big plays and it helped put our offense in good situations.”

Amos moved to free safety this fall after playing cornerback (eight interceptions) the previous two seasons. In certain situations, Amos played cornerback, especially against a big wide receiver.

“You got more responsibility at free safety, but if you’re an athlete you have to be willing to change positions,” said Amos, who has committed to Big East Conference champ UCONN. “Be an athlete and change positions because that’s what great ones do.”

There’s little doubt Amos was that and more for The Hall in 2010.

“Last year, he was a good corner and was physical and had nice gifts. It wasn’t a situation like ‘Adrian we need the football right now,’” said Davis. “He became an elite player.”

Donald DavisCoach of the Year: Donald Davis, Calvert Hall College

In his fourth season, Davis returned The Hall back to football prominence in 2010. The Towson school (11-1 overall) won its first MIAA A Conference championship (first overall since 1982; MSA A co-champions), and finished No. 1 in
Varsity Sports Network’s metro Top 20.

Davis, the inaugural recipient of VSN’s Football Coach of the Year Award, was cautiously optimistic heading into the season.

“There was a changing of guards at quarterback and graduated four guys off the [offense] line,” said Davis. “I thought would be competitive with every team on our schedule.”

Only a road loss to Georgetown Prep, where the Cardinals were stopped inside the Little Hoyas’ 5-yard line in closing seconds, was Calvert Hall’s only blemish. It came a week after the Cardinals’ signature moment of 2010.

Trailing 21-7 at halftime to then-No. 1 Gilman School, Calvert Hall shutdown the area’s dominant offensive player in Darius Jennings in the second half. The Cardinals scored 19 unanswered points to take a 26-21 victory over the Greyhounds in the first night game at Calvert Hall’s Russo Stadium.

“Bigger than the win was the way the kids played in the second half,” said Davis. “Gilman had score before halftime and had all the momentum, yet our kids hung in there and stayed together. Their confidence in themselves and our coaching staff never wavered.”

But the turning point for Davis and the Cardinals actually came the year before. Calvert Hall dropped a 14-9 decision late to Archbishop Spalding to fall to 0-2.

“We gave them Saturday, Sunday and Monday off. We just told them to get away from football for a couple of days and the restart the engine,” said Davis. “When they came in Tuesday, they were unfazed by the loss. The kids were like ‘we were better than the way we showed and we’re going to prove it to everybody.’”

The Cardinals closed 2009 with eight wins in their final 10 games, capped with a victory over Loyola Blakefield in the Turkey Bowl at M & T Bank Stadium. It was Calvert Hall’s first victory over its Towson arch-rival since 2002.

“That group set the table for this team. It was them battling back from adversity of the first two losses that got us going,” said Davis, 28-18 at Calvert Hall. “It made the younger guys believed.”

Since the 0-2 start last season, the Cardinals have gone 19-3. With a talented crop of underclass skill players set to return next season, The Hall is definitely back.

It hasn’t been lost on Davis, a 1996 graduate who returned “home” in 2007 after six seasons (four as coach) at Cardinal Gibbons. 

“Being back at Calvert Hall and teaching alongside some of my former teachers has been great,” said Davis, who teaches English. “To lead the football team in a lot of ways is the icing cake.”