By CHRIS McMANES — Twenty-five years ago, Mike Hunter enjoyed a victory over DeMatha. The former Gonzaga wide receiver is now head football coach at Friendship Collegiate Academy.
On Saturday night, the Stags and Knights will play in one of the marquee games of the season. DeMatha (2-1) is ranked eighth in the area. Twelfth-ranked FCA is 3-0.
Hunter and Elijah Brooks, his Stags counterpart, are both anticipating a hard-fought, skillful display on the Anacostia High School gridiron. Kickoff is 5 p.m.
Despite DeMatha’s season-opening loss at nationally ranked St. Thomas Aquinas, Hunter said the Stags are “just as strong as they always have been. I know we have to bring our ‘A’ game to have a chance to beat them.
“One thing I know about Coach Brooks and his coaching staff is they’re going to bring everything they have to the table.”
Brooks thinks highly of the job Hunter has done since coming to FCA as offensive coordinator in 2007. He is in his fifth season helming the public charter school in Southeast Washington. The Knights are coming off a 30-14 victory over H.D. Woodson at RFK Stadium.
“Mike has done a great job with Friendship,” Brooks said. “Whenever you play a Friendship team, they’re going to play extremely hard. They’re always going to be well coached. All their schemes are very sound.
“It’s going to be another tough challenge on Saturday.”
The two titans will be playing for the third time. In 2010, when Brooks was in his final year as a Stags assistant, DeMatha prevailed, 35-32. Last year, the Deer Men trailed by four points at halftime before overwhelming the Knights in a 42-18 victory.
The game has the makings of an annual series.
“They’re easily one of the top teams in D.C. year in and year out,” Brooks said. “And we’re one of the top teams in Maryland. So, I think for as long as Coach Hunter and Friendship want to do it, I don’t see why we couldn’t continue playing.”
Hunter is not quite ready to call it a rivalry.
“I want to keep playing them, but for it to get the title of a rivalry, it can’t be one-sided. We have to win some games for it to reach that level.”
Mike “Big Game” Hunter was an All-American wideout at Catholic University. As a senior, the Cardinals won the Old Dominion Athletic Conference championship and qualified for their second of three straight NCAA Division III playoffs. He was a Catholic assistant from 2000 to 2005 before coaching wide receivers for one year at Howard University.
He joined the FCA staff in 2007 and eventually became athletic director. He relinquished the latter role in 2014 when he began overseeing athletics at all of Friendship’s nine Washington campuses.
In 1993, Hunter and Catholic Hall of Famer Jeff Clay teamed up to help Gonzaga beat DeMatha for the first time in two decades.
“It was a big, big game for us,” Hunter said. “They were ranked No. 1. We were ranked No. 2 in The Washington Post. It was a great game. We came out on top, but they would always beat us in the playoffs.
“So, it was like they got the one that counted.”
Hunter has coached players now playing at, among others, Maryland, Howard, Virginia State, UAB, Richmond, Delaware and Syracuse. Former Stags are in the NFL and at schools like Air Force, Virginia, Maryland and Penn State. Nick Cross (Florida State) and DeMarcco Hellams (Alabama) are senior DeMatha stars.
Hunter said fans should arrive early: “It should be a packed house. The weather is going to be great. I know both teams are going to bring some good football to the D.C. area.”
Tickets are $5.
Doe or Stag? – While practicing at Magruder Park on Thursday, a deer went dashing across the field. Turning heads and surprising the startled players, it’s a sight they don’t see at Heurich Field, their usual practice facility.
DeMatha was prepping at Magruder because its JV team was playing Friendship Collegiate at Heurich. The Stags (3-0) took a 35-0 halftime lead on their way to a 41-6 victory.
Local rankings – Washington Catholic Athletic Conference teams continue to dominate the Washington Post Top 20. St. John’s (3-0) remains No. 1. Gonzaga (4-0) checks in at No. 2. Good Counsel (2-1) is fifth.
DeMatha’s final four games will be against those teams and McNamara. All but the fifth-place school will advance to the WCAC Capital Division playoffs. The Metro Division features St. Mary’s Ryken, Paul VI, O’Connell, Ireton and Carroll.
The top seeds will host first-round playoff games. The winners will play for their respective championship at a site to be determined. This is the first year the WCAC has two football divisions.
New Arrival – Jaden Bradley, a 6-foot-4 quarterback from Fayetteville, N.C., attended his first DeMatha practice Thursday. Bradley played for Terry Sanford High School. His father, Damon, said their house was not damaged by Hurricane Florence.
A sophomore, Bradley will likely be assigned to the JV.
Tough Foe – Saturday’s game is part of the Touchdowns Against Cancer initiative. DeMatha fans are asked to donate to help defeat childhood cancer. Nationally, more than $96,000 has been raised. The money will go to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) has won three national writing awards for the Hyattsville Life & Times. He is in his fourth season covering DeMatha football.