BY CHRIS MCMANES — A high school coach is fortunate if his seniors provide leadership. If they, by their words, actions, and response to adversity, show the younger players the proper way to get things done.
DeMatha Catholic football coach Elijah Brooks had that type of senior leaders on his 2016 team. The Stags finished 12-0 against a schedule that included top clubs from Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland.
The Washington Post ranked them No. 1 all season. USA Today, at press time, pegged them seventh in the nation. Including 2015, they are riding a 17-game winning streak.
Seniors like Beau English (quarterback), Grant Donaldson (linebacker/tight end), Khory Spruill (running back), Gregory Rose (defensive end), Marcus Minor (tackle), Zach Lyons (center/guard), Myles Canton (safety), Delante Hellams (wide receiver) and Chase Young (defensive end) led DeMatha to its fourth consecutive Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) championship.
“They’re just winners,” Brooks said. “It’s an intrinsic, innate quality that not a lot of people have. You can’t measure it, but when they get put in adverse situations, they’re able to overcome it. I just have a team full of those guys.
“It starts with my senior class and it trickles down to the underclassmen.”
A little before that, Brooks was overcome with emotion after telling his kneeling Stags how proud he was of them. His sixth team at DeMatha wasn’t expected to be the eighth undefeated squad in school history.
“They did everything they can to have a zero in that loss column,” he said. “That’s very difficult to do. They’re the ultimate champions.”
The Stags began the year with a 42-7 romp over Oscar Smith in the sweltering heat of Chesapeake, Va. It was the Tigers’ only regular-season loss. DeMatha’s closest game was a 14-13 win over WCAC rival St. John’s on Sept. 30.
The Stags scored at least 55 points twice and shut out Carroll 42-0. Consecutive victories over Good Counsel put DeMatha into the league championship game for the 24th time in 26 years.
Trailing St. John’s 29-14 in the Nov. 19th title game, the Stags looked like they were going to finish with one defeat. But with 7:18 to play, Jalen Brown recovered a fumble. English led three DeMatha scoring drives the rest of way, including one that started at the Cadets’ 1 when Nicolas Cross pounced on an up-for-grabs kickoff.
English accounted for all 57 yards on the game-clinching drive. The go-ahead score came on a 17-yard pass to a diving Myles Miree. The Stags’ defense, which had given up its most points all year, held St. John’s in check the final two times it had the ball.
A four-peat now belonged to DeMatha, which is celebrating its 70th year in Hyattsville. “We knew that it was going to be very difficult to win [one] championship, let alone four in a row,” Brooks said. “So give credit to St. John’s. They played a fantastic game, but this [title] was definitely the sweetest.”
English and Donaldson will receive intense leadership training at the U.S. Air Force Academy over the next four years. English, who guided the Stags to three consecutive crowns, said he’s already learned a lot about leading men at DeMatha.
“Absolutely,” he said. “This coaching staff really expects a lot out of me and all the captains. Playing with a great group of guys like this, they’re going to look to the quarterback as a leader. So I had to step up. I’m just happy that we were able to get this win for my guys.”
Anthony Toro, a junior linebacker/tight end who will likely be one of the Stags’ leaders in 2017, said he learned “more than you can imagine” from this year’s seniors.
“I learned how to keep my head high when things are down,” Toro said. “I learned how to push through the tough times. They couldn’t have taught me anymore than I needed to know.
“This was an amazing group of seniors, and I’m going to miss them more than anything.”
Chris McManes is a lifetime member of the DeMatha Alumni Association.