Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

OBGC football: Reliving glory days

Former national champs now high-school stars

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Gazette File Photo
Travis Hawkins, a standout junior running back at Quince Orchard, was once a standout for the Olney Boys & Girls Club Pop Warner football teams that won back-to-back national championships in 2003 and 2004.
Steve Norcio calls them the ‘‘Bad News Bears” of football, even though they were such bad news, they didn’t know their nickname was the Bears.

It was 1999, and Norcio was coaching a youth team at the Olney Boys and Girls Club that lost ‘‘damn close to every flag game we played.” They dubbed themselves the Hurricanes, not realizing that OBGC teams were traditionally called the Bears.

From those humble beginnings grew a dynasty that would net back-to-back Pop Warner Junior Midget National Championships in 2003 and ’04, and produce a number of players expected to headline the coming Montgomery County high-school football season.

‘‘We had a lot of leadership on that team; everybody was just on the same page from day one,” said Sherwood senior Dominique Budd, who played on the 2003 team. ‘‘We played against [former OBGC teammates] like Thomas Addison and Travis Hawkins at Quince Orchard. We’re not friends on the field, but after the game, we call each other and go out to eat or whatever.”

Between 2000 and 2004, during which the teams went a combined 65-4-1, players came and went. But whether they are one of the six who played with Norcio from the beginning in 1999, or were on the team for just one year, all are welcome at the annual reunion held before each football season.

Norcio said last year’s event packed 65 former players and their families into Mamma Lucia restaurant in Olney. But there are also informal get-togethers throughout the year, usually around Norcio’s grill.

‘‘It’s telling stories about the old days, watching game film, saying ‘Ooh’ and ‘Aah’ to big hits, laughing about who got punished,” Hawkins said. ‘‘Coach Norcio always makes hot dogs in his own sauce, whatever he pulls out of his pantry. I say, ‘Coach, I don’t want all that on my hot dog.’ He says, ‘Eat it anyway.’”

Good Counsel graduate Kendall Haley only played with the team in 2003, before he had to move up to the next weight class. But he still keeps in touch with his teammates from that year, even now that he is the first playing in college, at Division I-AA Monmouth (N.J.) University.

‘‘It makes me feel good to see all the players from that team scattered everywhere and doing well,” Haley said. ‘‘Even though I played in the next higher weight class, I supported them wherever they went. ... I still talk to all of them, through facebook[.com] or myspace.”

Other former members of those teams are at Sherwood (Budd, juniors Steven Gamble, Chris Everett and Zack Splain), Magruder (senior Xavier Johnson), Good Counsel (junior Caleb Porzel), Springbrook (senior Carlo Galeano), Paint Branch (senior Steven Miller), Quince Orchard (Hawkins and Addison) and Northwest (junior Aaron Greene).

The original six Hurricanes who stayed for the national championship years were Galeano, Gamble, Johnson and Splain, along with Landon senior lineman Nick McMahan and Norcio’s son, Stephen, an accomplished wrestler at Magruder who no longer plays football.

Galeano, Gamble and Miller also rank among the top wrestlers in the county. Budd and Johnson excel in basketball, and Porzel is a standout sprinter during the spring and summer. But the players agree that the OBGC team’s togetherness was a bigger reason for its success than was athleticism.

‘‘Everyone worked hard together; everyone practiced hard,” Haley said. ‘‘We were good players because we worked together. We felt that’s how we won the championship. If a team doesn’t work like a team, you have nowhere to go.”

The members of what started out as football’s Bad News Bears took that lesson all the way to Disney World and the Pop Warner National Championships, and they’re still running with it.

Haley played in two Washington Catholic Athletic Conference finals with Good Counsel. Sherwood’s OBGC contingent has been to back-to-back MPSSAA Class 4A championship games. Quince Orchard has been to two straight regional finals.

The bad-news Hurricanes have come a long way.

‘‘It’s a big-time camaraderie thing,” Norcio said. ‘‘When they see each other on the field this year, it’s going to be a big deal. ... Unequivocally, those kids take their Super Bowl Championship as seriously as the New England Patriots do theirs. And they all love each other.”