Boys' Latin's momentum had been sucked away like a street puddle in the middle of July. After the Lakers surged to a 14-0 third-quarter lead in the 2009 season opener, St. Mary's responded. They returned a kickoff for a touchdown, stopped the Boys' Latin offense and were driving with a chance to tie. St. Mary's moved inside Lakers territory and faced a manageable third down.
But then Marco Jones , a 6-foot-3, 255-pound monster defensive end, put his huge foot down. Jones exploded off the line, pummeled the left tackle and drilled the quarterback from the blind side, almost forcing a fumble. Thus ended St. Mary's comeback hopes.
"The crowd just went crazy after that play," said Jones, a junior transfer who was playing his first game for the Lakers. "It was my first big play for Boys' Latin. We got the momentum back and were able to close out the game."
Jones' second sack and fifth quarterback hurry forced St. Mary's to punt. The Lakers took over and went on to win 21-7.
"He just dominated," said Lakers coach Ritchie Schell. "That was impressive."
Jones, who transferred to Boys' Latin after two years at Mount St. Joseph, might be the most heralded football player in the Lakers' 157-year history. Although his stats weren't eye-popping - four sacks, 45 tackles on defense, no sacks allowed as a guard on offense - Jones overwhelmed opposing linemen. He earned First Team All-MIAA honors as a junior and already has a Division I scholarship offer from Maryland.
"I don't think we've ever had a kid with a Division I offer at Boys' Latin," Schell said. "Honestly, in my time at Boys' Latin and the 11 years I coached at Johns Hopkins, I've never been around this type of athlete. He's just phenomenal."
At an institution known more for its lacrosse prowess then its gridiron exploits, Jones and Schell have helped usher in a new era of football dominance. Although the Lakers have won a few conference titles, seasons like 2009 aren't typical. They finished 10-1, a loss in the B-Conference championship to Spalding their only blemish.
Jones didn't single-handedly carry the team - the Lakers had plenty of talent - but, as the old saying goes, games are won and lost in the trenches. Entrenched in those ruts was Marco Jones.
"He's got great feet and he can freaking move," Schell said. "Honestly, kids can't block him. He just controls the whole side of the line. People ran away from him so I had to switch him up all the time."
Imagine what could have been had he been at Boys' Latin since he was a freshman.
Instead, Jones spent his first two years at Mount St. Joe's, an MIAA A-Conference school that produces its fair share of football talent. But Jones grew disenchanted with the Gaels, saying only that "I really wasn't allowed to do what I was capable of doing."
Jones decided to transfer. Interestingly, he chose the Lakers instead of another prominent MIAA powerhouse.
"At first it worried me coming to a smaller program," Jones said. "I thought I could be making a mistake. But my mom told me to wait and think about it. I decided I could be a true leader at Boys' Latin and I could be part of making the team great. Obviously, it was the right decision."
When Jones first stepped foot on the practice field, he left quite an impression. He hadn't even put on pads, but no one had seen anyone that big before at Boys' Latin. Schell's jaw dropped. Heads turned like a congregation straining to see who walked in during a minister's homily.
"I looked at my assistants and we're like 'What fell into our lap here?'" Schell said. "I was just thinking, 'Wow, he's going to make me a good coach.' And he did. We were 10-1 and he anchored the defense."
Jones was not allowed to play his first year due to MIAA transfer rules. But that didn't preclude him from practicing. For the entirety of 2008, Jones lined up on the scout team defense. He lifted with the team every day and practiced like his job was in jeopardy.
"He knew he couldn't play but he still came to practice in full equipment ready to go," Schell said. "We could tell right then he was going to be special."
I was really excited to be apart of the program," Jones said. "Everyone welcomed me with open arms. I felt so comfortable there. But it was frustrating sitting out."
Boys' Latin was just as frustrated. They finished 4-6 in 2008 and their defense surrendered 26 points per game. Needless to say, the Lakers couldn't wait to unleash their beast in 2009.
With Jones controlling the line, offenses scrapped their game plans. Every time a quarterback passed, Jones harassed him. Every time teams ran, Jones gobbled up two blockers, allowing the Boys' Latin linebackers to stuff the run. The result: a 10-1 record and a defense that allowed just 14 points per game.
"I guess I wasn't really impressed because I knew what I was capable of doing," Jones said. "I just like hitting people, making tackles and getting to that quarterback."
Jones reaped the benefits - postseason awards, minor-celebrity status, college recruiters. Especially college recruiters. Besides Maryland, Jones is receiving heavy interest from places like Michigan, Iowa, Boston College, Pittsburgh and Duke.
But while he appreciates the attention, the unassuming star would rather walk the halls in anonymity. Jones rarely mentions his accolades among friends. And if he didn't look the part, no one would know he played football either.
"I don't like to talk about myself," Jones said. "When I'm on the field I'd rather blend in and help win a game where I had zero tackles or sacks then lose a game where I had five sacks and got all the recognition. Team is what matters most."
Perhaps that's why the humble Jones focuses on all he hasn't accomplished. For instance, he hasn't won an MIAA title. He hasn't reached his full physical capabilities ("Coach Dave Sollazzo at Maryland said he does need to get stronger," Schell said). He hasn't pulled in double-digits BCS offers. He hasn't earned straight 'As' in the classroom.
All of those are on his to-do list for 2010.
"I've got a lot to work on," Jones said. "It feels good what I've done so far, but it keeps my motor going and makes me want to work even harder so I can accomplish even more."