1957, 1958, 1959. That’s the last time the Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School football team put together three straight winning seasons, until now.
The Barons are 7-3 and heading to their second straight playoff appearance after not qualifying at all since 1995, a large shift for a school without much of any football tradition.
“I tell the players the last time this has been done, you’re talking about people who are 70-years-old now,” coach Rich Noland said. “So that’s a big deal. This is not your traditional football power.”
With a relatively wealthy population in perhaps the most urban school in very suburban Montgomery County, football has never been a big deal at B-CC. The girls soccer team is on the verge of its fifth straight state title. The boys lacrosse program hopes one day to compete with area private school powerhouses. But football, until now, has been nothing more than a three-month activity in the fall.
Noland made cuts this year for the first time in his four-year tenure. Players have bought in to offseason conditioning programs.
“This is a traditional middle to upper class neighborhood,” Noland said. “So football is really not; football is a blue collar sport. I don’t know if you can get a ‘Bethesda football atmosphere’ but we’ll do the best we can. We’ve gotten the gratitude and we’re doing our best.”
Players say Noland, who teaches AP Psychology and U.S. History at the school, deserves much of the credit for the team’s turnaround, though he won’t admit it.
Since he took over in his first head coaching job four years ago, the Barons have gone 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 and this year, 7-3, getting into the Montgomery 4A regional semifinals with a comeback win last week against Bethesda rival Walter Johnson.
“I think you’re always a reflection of your players,” Noland said. “It’s just, who gets the kids to buy in and do what you want them to do and do the right things. For the most part, these kids have done that.”
“He’s a great leader,” senior offensive lineman Anthony Royster said. “He showed us the way to winning at Bethesda-Chevy Chase.”
Royster remembered his freshman year on a 0-9 JV team, but said even then he thought better things were ahead.
“I thought we had the guys to do it,” he said. “I’m hoping that in the years that follow, they’ll continue to have success and I think it will be because we’ve set this program up for success.”
Senior quarterback David Hogan said people have been more supportive and the crowds have grown.
He helms B-CC’s triple-option offense, an almost exclusively run-based attack with multiple running backs that Noland said serves as an equalizer against teams with more size and more talent.
“I’m not gonna say it’s been a smooth run and we show up and we run for 400 yards per game,” Noland said. “But it’s kept us in some games that talent-wise we probably shouldn’t have been in. We’ve won some games where talent-wise I think we might have been on the short end.”
No one disputes the Barons will be on the short end talent-wise in their playoff game tomorrow.
For the second straight year, B-CC will head to Gaithersburg. There they will take on Quince Orchard, the 2007 state champs with a bevy of recent and current Division I prospects, a dedicated “Red Army” cheering section and a year-round emphasis on football that has made it the class of Montgomery County.
When Noland arrived, B-CC was on the polar opposite end of the football spectrum from Quince Orchard.
The Barons lost last year’s game 52-7. Quince Orchard went on to a narrow loss in the state title game.
“We told the kids and they know they’re playing probably the best team or one of the best teams in the state,” Noland said. “So I think the difference this year is that going into this game last year, our goal had been met. We had reached the playoffs. So emotionally and I think mentally by the time that week rolled around, we had just a totally different attitude. It was tough to sort of get ourselves back up.
“This week, it might be the same result but I think emotionally and mentally we’re better prepared for it. I think we’re going to give it our best shot and see what happens.”
To close practice on Wednesday, the Barons ran sprints and hills. Hogan, Royster and senior running back Jack Sieber were excused to talk to a reporter.
After the interview, as the rest of the team shuffled off to the locker room, Royster went to the hill by the Barons’ field and starting running up, then down, then up, then down. Then he ran sprints. He was alone.
“These guys doing some sprints afterward, people see that. That rubs off,” Noland said, as to whether B-CC can keep up its successful run with a new crop of players next year. “I think these guys have been really positive role models. They can see the work ethic and if you work hard in the offseason and do well academically, this is where you can end up.”
Of course, this season is not yet over.
“We have to get used to not being the underdogs anymore even though we have another shot this Friday to be the underdog,” said Sieber, who immediately reconsidered.
“I’m personally looking forward to being the underdogs,” he said. “We’ve got nothing to lose and everything to gain.”