HYATTSVILLE – At the end of a long day of practice, DeMatha Head Coach Elijah Brooks stood in front of the blazing sun, reminding his team of the preparation basics for the next day: hydrate before and after practice, eat breakfast and come to practice on time.
A commanding “Yes, Sir” from each player following every statement echoed across the practice field. The team quickly huddled together and chanted “repeat” before dispersing.
That is DeMatha Catholic High School football: very businesslike and used to the attention, but prepared to take on all challengers to win championships.
The Stags have not lost in 17 games, a streak that spans more than two seasons and two conference championship victories. Despite having one of the toughest schedules in all of high school football, DeMatha’s “1-0” mantra entering every game shines as a larger focus on the primary objective of winning a fifth consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) championship. A title would also be the program’s 25th overall.
Despite injuries and the rise of a new divisional rival in St. John’s, DeMatha ended last season undefeated at 12-0. This year, the football powerhouse will not have to rebuild its roster despite a few key departures. Instead, backup and role players from last season will slip in as starters.
“We feel good about that even though we didn’t have these guys start last year. They contributed a lot as juniors or sophomores. So, we feel good about the nucleus of returners coming back,” Brooks said.
All eyes will be focused on new starting quarterback, Tyler “Ty” Lenhart, to lead Brooks’ pro-style offense. The senior backed up Beau English for the last three years and almost earned the starting spot last year. Transfer rumors began to circulate, as his mini-camp performances garnered interest from several schools. He received an offer from Cornell and went on recruiting visits to Penn State and Indiana this summer.
However, the allure of playing with DeMatha stuck with the 6-foot-3 signal caller. Once August practices began, Lenhart pushed thoughts of the future to the side and started working with his wide receivers, juniors Jermaine Johnson, Jr. and DeMarcco Hellams, for the start of the new season.
“None of that stuff is in my head and recruiting is just going to fall into place. I’m going to play my game,” Lenhart said. “Whatever happens, happens. That’s the last thing on my mind right now. The first thing is to own this game (a 35-23 loss to Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas on Aug. 25) and this team, then go win the WCAC Championship.”
“DeMatha men have certain qualities we are looking for, and it's not jumping ship and running when your time doesn’t come,” Brooks said. “You stick it out and continue working until the time is right and he did that, and we’re happy he stayed.”
Defensively, DeMatha brings back seven starters including the team captain, Austin Fontaine, a 6-foot-2, 312-pound defensive tackle who has already committed to the University of Maryland.
While staying healthy for college will be one of his top priorities, the senior admits he wants to help preserve the championship streak that has become a school tradition.
“Ever since my freshman year, we have been winning championships,” Fontaine said. “Now, it’s my senior year and I want to keep that going. The team knows that, and we all have the same goal.”
The Stags’ underrated defense allowed just 161 points last year, and they look to repeat it. Maryland recruit Evan Gregory will play alongside Fontaine to clog up running lanes and limit runs to short-yard gains. Senior wide receiver Judson Tallandier II will continue playing on both sides, aiding the defense at cornerback.
Although DeMatha is expecting another successful year, it will have to contend with a packed schedule, especially toward the latter stage of the season. Three of the Stags’ final four games include a home game against rival Good Counsel, a WCAC title rematch at St. John’s, and travel to a tough Bishop McNamara squad.
“We obviously have high aspirations, but to be totally honest, playing in a league that we play in, you cannot afford to look past anyone,” Brooks said. “We’re focused each week to go 1-0, and that is where our goals are set.”
Good Counsel was the last school to win four straight conference championships (2009-2012) before DeMatha’s current run. None of today’s players were on the last non-title-winning team, a fact they would like to continue.
However, for Lenhart, taking success one game at a time will lead to titles and something bigger: becoming a part of the school’s football legacy.
“We know we are playing for the guys who came before us, those who graduated last year and the year before that,” Lenhart said. “They set the standard and gave us this platform. We are going to go out there, try to top that and keep raising it for the guys coming behind us. That’s how the DeMatha tradition works, and we are going to keep doing that until the end.”
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