Urbana returns its entire offensive line this season, but Brad Wilson isn’t taking the bait.
Here sits the perfect opportunity for the Hawks to return to their smashmouth, run-the-ball, 3-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust roots.
But the Urbana coach, a proponent of spread offense and getting his athletes out in space with the ball, can’t bring himself to do it.
“It’s just not my style,” Wilson said sitting behind the desk in his office on a recent afternoon, right below on index card on the wall that reads, “Yes, we will run the ball. We will run the ball after we catch it.”
When the idea of playing power football with the running game is broached, Wilson catches himself before he speaks. Then, he dismisses the idea out of hand.
Part of the reason is, for the first time in his three seasons on the job, Wilson believes he can run his entire offense the way he wants without any real limitations or concerns.
As the Hawks stumbled to records of 2-8 and 3-7 in his first two seasons on the job, Wilson’s pass-happy attack was constricted by unfamiliarity and inexperience. It was probably only running at 50-60 percent of its capacity.
But now there are 33 returning players, including 24 seniors, a three-year starter at quarterback in junior Kyle Howes, a tall and athletic receiving corps, a speedy running back in junior Eric Kolar and five seniors along the offensive line that can make everything work with the blocking and protection schemes.
The chains are finally off.
“We have a lot of potential, yes,” Wilson said. “We are not going to be the same old Urbana team of the last two years. The kids know the system.”
Howes can now walk up to a white board and quickly draw up what everyone is supposed to do on offense.
Last season, he admitted he was thinking way too much about every little thing, and that hindered his ability to read the field and make timely throws. He even let some of the outside noise creep in, such as what the student section was chanting and what people might say to him on Monday in school.
But now he says he can block all of that out. Between growing an inch in the offseason and adding close to 100 pounds to his bench press, he is a bigger and much-stronger quarterback. He said the offense felt a lot more automatic to him during summer 7-on-7 sessions.
“I am very confident,” Howes said. “I know every single play.”
Believe it or not, it’s become easy to overlook Urbana, a program with five state championships, and lump the Hawks in with other also-rans. After all, four seasons have passed since they were last in the playoffs or finished a season with more wins than losses.
But the weight room was bustling in the offseason. Wilson doesn’t believe Urbana will be pushed around in the trenches quite as much this season. And he strongly believes the program is moving in the right direction again, thanks, in part, to another team at the school.
“I tell you what, I am going to give the [boys] lacrosse team props. A number of their players also play football,” Wilson said. “Their success and their ability to understand how to [win] and what it takes, that has come into the football program.”
Wilson would prefer the Hawks to continue to fly under the radar because they would have the chance to sneak up and surprise some teams.
But, with their talent and experience, it might be difficult to retain a low profile.
No matter what, Urbana will look different when it takes the field Friday, as the Hawks have traded in their traditional white helmets for solid, navy blue ones.
“I know how important tradition is here,” Wilson said. “But I just felt, ‘Let’s do something a little different.’ It gives us a new look. I think the kids love them.”
Region: Class 4A North
League: Central Maryland Conference
Postseason appearances: 15
Last playoff appearance: 2014
State championships: 5
Coach and record with team: Brad Wilson, third season, 5-15
2018 record: 2-8
2018 review: The Hawks suffered their third consecutive losing season and fourth in a row without a playoff appearance. They dropped their first five games of the season before beating Middletown on the road, 21-14. Then, they lost two in a row before routing Thomas Johnson 40-7 on the road. Urbana capped its season with a 36-0 home loss to arch-rival Linganore.
Returning starters: 8 offense, 6 defense