Even before Winston Churchill High School senior Blake Dove arrived at the Potomac school, the expectations were high. Transferring in as a football player who earned All-Gazette as a freshman linebacker at Germantown’s Seneca Valley High School will do that.
But expectations peaked before last season. Dove was coming off a sophomore year where he led the Bulldogs in tackling and he was just starting to carry the ball on offense as a running back for a team that had made the playoffs two straight years.
Just weeks before the season began, Churchill’s top returning running back, Malik Harris, transferred to Friendship Collegiate, leaving Dove as the most experienced rusher on a team that expects its backs to carry them for the season.
It didn’t take long for the season to fall apart for both Dove and Churchill, which finished 1-9.
During the first game of the year, a Bethesda-Chevy Chase lineman fell on Dove’s ankle. The strain kept him on the sidelines for the rest of the season.
With only one year remaining, Dove said he has something to prove.
“I just have to play with a chip on my shoulder,” Dove said. “People don’t really know what happened ... It was just a minor setback. [I’m just about] to come back, and I’m just going to do my thing. That’s all.”
As a freshman, Dove led Seneca Valley’s defense in tackling as the Screaming Eagles reached the 3A West Region semifinals with a 9-2 record. He said he transferred to Churchill for his sophomore year to improve his grades, and because his family has ties to the school.
The Bulldogs were 7-4 that season and for the second straight year he led his team in tackling.
Heading into last season, Dove was expected to carry the workload after Harris left. But once Dove went down with the injury, Churchill was missing its top two running backs and its leading tackler, so the disappointing season followed.
Dove said his absence may have impacted the team, but he doesn’t think it was the sole reason for the down year.
“Most of [the losing] was all heart,” Dove said. “To play this sport, you got to have heart. You can’t play this sport without being tough on the field. You got to be tough because at any time, any play, somebody can go down. And you got to take their position.”
Churchill’s coach, Joe Allen, doesn’t blame Dove’s injury, citing a combination of distractions as the reason for the losing season.
“We just had a lot of distractions. And it really hurt us in terms of preparing for the season,” Allen said. “We had some key injuries, we were a young team. We had a lot of distractions last year, and this year has been totally different.”
Everyone can agree though, that Dove is a welcome addition.
A linebacker at heart, Dove is expected to split carries with Andrew Zuckerman and provide big plays on offense as well as defense. But he said he is most looking forward to playing defense.
“I love contact. I love getting to the ball. It feels good when I make a hit,” Dove said.
“He’s an explosive player on both sides of the ball,” Allen said. “We expect him to be one of the best defensive players in the county.”
Dove said that he feels good physically, which is a good thing because this year he’ll be playing for college offers.
“The process [of recovering from the injury] was just to come back harder,” Dove said. “This is your last shot, senior year. So you want to put it all on the line. My game plan was to — if I rest my ankle up well enough, I don’t need to worry about taping it up. I don’t need to worry about wearing an ankle brace. Just having it be [strong]. Just natural strength. I don’t need nothing to hold it for me.”