Nick Good-Malloy, the head coach for the Annapolis High School football team, is quick to tell you his team's motto is "brick by brick." It's a phrase that represents consistent progress, something the Panthers have enjoyed since Good-Malloy's first season as head coach in 2012.
When Good-Malloy took over, the team had experienced a 15-game losing streak and hadn't qualified for the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletics Association state playoffs since 2009. Under Good-Malloy, who graduated from Annapolis in 2001, the team has enjoyed steady progress -- winning one game in 2012, four in 2013 and five in 2014.
In 2015, the Panthers had a true breakout season, finishing 8-3 and qualifying for the MPSSAA 4A state tournament. This season, Annapolis has taken it even further. With a 40-15 win against Glen Burnie Oct. 28, the team eclipsed its win total from 2015 by winning its first nine games and will once again qualify for the postseason.
"Our steady improvement isn't an accident," Good-Malloy said. "Those early years we could've cut corners and done things to win games in the moment, but we were focused on doing things the right way. That didn't lead to immediate results, but we believed that doing things the right way will pay off down the road. We like to think that that's what we see going on."
For the first time since 1999-2002, Annapolis will participate in the MPSSAA postseason in consecutive campaigns.
"I was on the varsity as a freshman, and our expectations have changed so much since then," junior outside linebacker Dayshawn Womack said. "It's been a great experience being on this team."
The team's steady rise to becoming one of Anne Arundel County's top football programs has been punctuated by big moments, which began in 2015.
Annapolis' statement win of that campaign came against perennial powerhouse Arundel. A sloppy game in which the two teams combined to have six turnovers, the Panthers pulled off a major comeback, scoring 16 straight points in the fourth quarter to beat the Wildcats, 30-28.
It was Arundel's first loss against Annapolis since 2005, and then-junior running back Cameron Hough scored one of the team's touchdowns during the fourth-quarter surge.
"Winning against Arundel proved to us that we can do more than beat mediocre teams. We can beat great teams," Hough, who also plays linebacker, said. "Through all the mistakes, we kept playing hard. It shows that all the hard work we've put in has added another dimension to our team."
That win was part of a six-game win streak from Sept. 25-Oct. 30, 2015. The team's season ended with back-to-back losses against Old Mill, in the regular season and the first round of the MPSSAA playoffs.
"That whole season showed us we can get it done and we can play with these big teams," senior inside linebacker Avery Groft said. "The success we had and the ultimate failure gave us so much confidence and motivation for this year."
The end of 2015 was emotional for Good-Malloy because of the seniors who were leaving the program. Prior to becoming head coach at Annapolis, Good-Malloy was the head coach at Glen Burnie from 2010-11. He also had spells as an assistant coach at Annapolis from 2006-07 and Salisbury University from 2008-09.
Throughout his career, Good-Malloy had never been in one place long enough to see a class of players go from freshmen to seniors until 2015. Combined with how well the 2015 senior class finished their high school careers, it was a special conclusion for Good-Malloy.
"To see them winning one game as freshmen to graduating with eight wins and making the playoffs was incredible," Good-Malloy said. "We always talk about leaving something better than you found it -- that includes our football program. Every senior class since my coaching staff has been here can look at themselves and say they've done their job in terms of building the program, including last year's group."
If last year's seniors can say that, then this year's will certainly be able to.
The team won its first two games against Meade and Southern by a combined score of 121-23. In its third game of the season, Annapolis faced Broadneck, the only team besides Old Mill to beat the Panthers in 2015.
Annapolis had a dominant performance, winning 40-19. The Panthers scored a touchdown in every phase of the game -- offense, defense and special teams.
"We knew it was a big game, and we had to execute where we didn't last year," junior right guard and nose tackle Jack Cowger said. "That was an overall great win -- special teams, offense, defense. Broadneck was our most complete team win of the year."
If the Broadneck game was the Panthers' most sound win, then their victory against Severna Park was their grittiest.
In that game, a plethora of injuries left Annapolis with only 31 players available to participate, which meant players who wouldn't usually get the opportunity to play were relied upon. In Severna Park, Annapolis had an opponent it was expected to beat but was coming off consecutive convincing victories -- in other words, the definition of a trap game.
Severna Park had the lead with less than two minutes to play and had the Panthers pinned back on their own 10-yard line. Annapolis rose to the challenge, going the length of the field on a drive that was capped off by a Hough rushing touchdown to give Annapolis a narrow, 42-35, win.
"That game brought everyone together," senior wide receiver and safety Trey Gross said. "Everyone had to step up for us to beat Severna Park, whether if that meant cheering, blocking or catching the ball. Everyone did their part to win that game."
The experience of the entire team working hard and coming together so the group can enjoy a Friday night win is the vision Good-Malloy has for his program.
Good-Malloy will be the first to tell you he asks a lot of his players, not just as football players, but as citizens as well. Like the team's motto of "brick by brick," he wants his players to continually improve in multiple phases of their lives.
While the discipline and focus a high schooler can gain from playing football are excellent consequences of participating, Good-Malloy also believes the special moments his kids experience when they upset a big-name team, or drive the length of the field to win in the final seconds need to be embraced in order for them to get the full experience.
"We try to have fun. We tell them that these will be some of their best high school memories," Good-Malloy said. "They'll be able to look back and remember playing high school football, so we want to see the kids be happy Friday night after a win for all the hard work and sacrifice they put in. We want being a member of this team to be a positive experience for our kids."
Issue 227: November 2016