By CHRIS McMANES — DeMatha Football Coach Elijah Brooks could easily schedule nonconference games against teams the Stags would have little trouble defeating. But that would be out of line with the school culture.
DeMatha coaches, teachers and administrators place rigorous challenges on their students. This leads the young men under their charge to develop more fully as students, players, community leaders and men of God.
The Stags’ season-opening 38-0 loss at St. Thomas Aquinas in South Florida last week did another thing. It highlighted several areas where DeMatha needs to improve.
“You can’t fix what you don’t know is broken,” Brooks said.
The Stags, playing the seventh-ranked team in the nation, saw three turnovers quickly fade into a 17-0 deficit. Blown coverages and new players in important roles also factored into DeMatha’s first shutout in 18 years.
“While you never want to lose a game, especially on national TV, sometimes it’s good to see what your weaknesses are week one vs. week eight when you’re in the middle of competing for a playoff spot,” Brooks said. “It was a disappointing way to start the year, but our guys have handled it well to this point.”
The Stags face another big road test tonight vs. Imhotep Institute Charter High School. The 6:30 p.m. game will be at Benjamin L. Johnston Memorial Stadium in Philadelphia. The Panthers (1-0) are ranked No. 7 in the East by USA Today.
“They’re one of the top teams in Pennsylvania,” Brooks said. “They’re big, athletic, dynamic, [and] off to a good start with their blowout (34-10) win last week. Heading into this [game], we want our guys to play fast and play aggressively. We’ve really simplified the game in all three phases so that, hopefully, our players can play freely.”
DeMatha plays four of its first six games away from its home field in Landover. Washington Catholic Athletic Conference (WCAC) play begins Oct. 12 at home vs. Gonzaga.
“Our goal and our focus is to be ready for the WCAC,” Brooks said. “I think our league is arguably the best in the country. You have to challenge your guys early so they’ll be ready in October and November.”
I-95 Travelers– Two motor coaches left DeMatha late this morning and arrived in the Chestnut Hill section of Philadelphia three and a half hours later.
The Stags enjoyed a pregame meal at Iron Hill Brewery and Restaurant. From there, it was about a 10-minute drive to the stadium at the Germantown Supersite. They were greeted by rain and a cramped locker room. The game, originally scheduled for 7 p.m., was moved up 30 minutes.
When DeMatha took the field at 5:05 for pregame warmups, it was still raining.
Lineman out for the year – DeMatha junior left guard Jordan White sustained a broken left ankle vs. St. Thomas Aquinas last week and is out for the year. The loss is a serious blow to the Stags’ inexperienced offensive line. DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said sophomore Joe Harris would start in White’s place this week.
White, a team captain, traveled with the team to its game at Imhotep. His injury will not diminish his leadership.
“He’s the heart and soul of our guys up front, and he’s easily one of the most respected guys on the team because he works so hard and competes at such a high level,” Brooks said. “Losing Jordan out there on the field is tough, but he’ll be at the game tonight supporting us as a leader should.
“We’re hoping we can rally around him”
Great sportsmanship – St. Thomas Aquinas players and coaches showed a lot of class when they formed a line to fist bump and wish Jordan White well as he was carted off the field on a stretcher. One of the last people to greet him was Jason Taylor. The former Miami Dolphin Pro Bowl defensive end and Pro Football Hall of Famer is an Aquinas assistant.
“They were incredible hosts,” DeMatha Coach Elijah Brooks said. “There’s no secret why they’re as successful as they are. I give a lot of credit and praise to that program. Coach [Roger] Harriott does a great job with those guys on and off the field. You can see it in their play. It’s a fantastic program.”
Brooks would love for the Raiders to come to Maryland and play the Stags.
“It would be,” he said with a smile. “Hopefully we can get another shot at them.”
Chris McManes (mick-maynz) covers DeMatha football for the Hyattsville Life & Times.