Some programs are just on a higher level than everyone else, and that is certainly the case for the St. Frances Academy Panthers, who have a national caliber football team which is currently ranked No. 6 in the nation in the SBLive Sports/Sports Illustrated Power 25.

Naturally, the Panthers are at the top of the first ever Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Preseason Football Top 15, which debuts VSN’s high school sports coverage as part of The Baltimore Banner.

St. Frances, however, is not the only game in town. Defending MIAA A Conference champion Calvert Hall comes in at No. 2, followed by three other A Conference squads in our Top 5.

Without further ado, here is the 2022 Baltimore Banner/Varsity Sports Network Preseason Football Top 15.

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1. St. Frances Academy

2021 Record: 8-1

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 1

Coach: Messay Hailemariam

Players to watch: K.P. Price, senior, cornerback; Durrell Robinson, senior, running back; Michael Van Buren, junior, quarterback; Dashawn Womack, senior, defensive line

Hailemariam thinks the 2022 edition may be the best of the many talent-laden rosters the East Baltimore school has assembled over the last several seasons. Womack, a LSU commit and the area’s top prospect, is the headliner of imposing defensive and offensive lines. Van Buren, one of the nation’s top juniors, who has an offer from the University of Alabama, will lead the offense. The Panthers have their toughest schedule since becoming an independent in 2018, with games in Florida, Hawaii, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas.

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(From left) Michael Van Buren, Dashawn Womack, Durell Robinson and Isaiah Neal are four stars on a star-studded St. Frances team, the top-ranked football team in Baltimore since 2017. (Derek Toney)

2. Calvert Hall College

2021 Record: 9-3

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 2

Coach: Josh Ward

Players to watch: Noah Brannock, senior, quarterback; Donovan Lewis, senior, wide receiver

The Cardinals are primed to repeat as MIAA A Conference champions. Twelve starters return, led by William & Mary commit Brannock, the area’s top rated senior signal caller. He’ll have big-play receiver Lewis, who caught two scores in last year’s MIAA A title game, back, along with Dorsey in the backfield. The Towson school will be experienced on both lines, led by Anderson (6-foot-4, 265 pounds).

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3. Mount St. Joseph

2021 Record: 7-4

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 5

Coach: Dom Damico

Players to watch: Bryce Cox, senior, running back; Carter Davis, senior, defensive back; Tre Goodridge, senior, wide receiver; Deshaun Merrick, senior, defensive line; Winston Watkins, junior, quarterback

The Gaels return 10 starters from last year’s MIAA A semifinalist. Watkins will direct an explosive offense, featuring Cox and Goodridge. Damico, the dean of MIAA A coaches, thinks he has his best defensive unit, with Boston College commit Davis anchoring a veteran and deep secondary. If the offensive and defensive lines stay healthy, Mount St. Joseph should challenge for the MIAA A crown.

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4. Archbishop Spalding

2021 Record: 10-1

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 3

Coach: Kyle Schmitt

Players to watch: Gio Boone, senior, linebacker; Max Moss, senior, wide receiver; Malik Washington, sophomore, quarterback; Damien Wilburn, senior, defensive line

The Cavaliers will be motivated after a perfect season was ruined in the MIAA A semifinals last year. Washington, who has early offers from Maryland and Penn State, will lead a host of new starters who played reserve minutes last season. Boone returns to anchor the linebackers and Wilburn is the veteran on a deep and young defensive front.

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5. McDonogh School

2021 Record: 6-5

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 4

Coach: Hakeem Sule

Players to watch: Mathani Paul-Swinson, senior, wide receiver/defensive back; Mason Robinson, senior, offensive/defensive line; Demetrius Smith, senior, running back/defensive back; Tamarus Walker, senior, offensive/defensive line

The Eagles return 10 starters from last year’s MIAA A runner-up squad. They’ll have one of the area’s premier offensive and defensive fronts, led by Power 5 commits Robinson (Northwestern) and Walker (Maryland). McDonogh will be young at quarterback with freshman Braden Palizzo likely getting the nod, but Sule thinks a speedy and experienced receiver group will ease growing pains.

6. Dunbar

2021 Record: 13-0

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 6

Coach: Lawrence Smith

Players to watch: Josh Fedd, senior, offensive/defensive line; Tony Hart, senior, wide receiver/defensive back; Tristan Keenan, senior, running back/defensive back; Detwan Player, senior, running back/linebacker; Devin Roche, senior, quarterback

The defending Class 2A/1A state champ Poets are primed for another big campaign. Roche, an Old Dominion commit and the consensus offensive player of the year in the Baltimore area last year, headlines 15 returning starters. Keenan and Hart (Elon commit) are two-way standouts along with Fedd and Player. Barring injuries and complacency, Dunbar should be playing at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in December for a 12th state title.

7. Milford Mill Academy

2021 Record: 12-2

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 9

Coach: Reggie White

Players to watch: Rashard Herring, senior, offensive/defensive line; Deshawn Purdie, junior, quarterback; Daysen Shell, senior, wide receiver/defensive back/returner

The Millers, who lost in the Class 2A state final last year, start the season as Baltimore County’s best. Shell is one of the area’s most dynamic performers, and Herring is among the region’s elite interior performers. Several new faces, including Mount St. Joseph transfer Purdie, who has an early offer from Maryland, give Milford Mill hope that its state championship drought will finally end this season.

8. Loyola Blakefield

2021 Record: 9-3

Final VSN 2021 ranking: No. 11

Coach: Anthony Zehyoue

Players to watch: Shane Elliott, senior, wide receiver/defensive back; Marcus Hines, senior, quarterback; Liam Powell, junior, linebacker; A.J. Szymanski, senior, tight end/defensive line; Trevor Szymanski, junior, offensive/defensive line

The Dons return to the MIAA A after a three-season hiatus, but won’t have dynamic playmaker and Duke commit Jayden Moore, who tore his ACL earlier in the summer. The offense will regroup with Hines back behind center and Trevor Szymanski anchoring the line. A.J. Szymanski, who’s committed to Maryland, will lead the defense.

9. Mervo

2021 Record: 12-1

Final VSN Top 20 ranking: 7

Coach: Patrick Nixon

Players to watch: Tyshawn Cox, junior, wide receiver; Deron Deniton, senior, defensive line; Jenard Lockhart, senior, defensive back; Julian Robinson, senior, offensive line

The Mustangs, who overcame the tragic death of Elijah Gorham to win their first state championship (4A/3A) last season, have some retooling ahead in 2022. Only four starters return, but Nixon is expecting several players from last year’s Baltimore City-title winning junior varsity team to contribute. Mervo should again challenge Dunbar in the city league Division I.

10. Dundalk

2021 record: 13-1

Final VSN 2021 ranking: 8

Coach: Tom Abel

Players to watch: Kevaun Briscoe, senior, linebacker; Jordan Fiorenza, senior, running back; Julian Haddix, senior, offensive/defensive line; Dale Martin, senior, tight end/linebacker; Chidi Onoh, senior, offensive line; Joel Soestre, senior, defensive line

The Owls have 10 starters back from last year’s 4A/3A state runner-up squad. Fiorenza, one of the area’s top running backs, returns with Division I recruit Onoh (6-foot-6, 270 pounds) paving the way at tackle. Briscoe, Haddix, Martin and Soestre will be the defensive anchors for Abel, who takes over for Matt Banta after previously serving as defensive coordinator.

11. Broadneck

2021 Record: 8-2

Coach: Rob Harris

Final VSN 2021 ranking: 13

Players to watch: Cam Catterton, senior, quarterback; Machi Evans, senior, wide receiver; Anthony Hawkins, senior, defensive back; Eli Harris, junior, wide receiver/defensive back; Hayden Raymond, junior, offensive line

The Bruins hope to continue their reign in Anne Arundel County. Catterton, a South River transfer, replaces four-year starter Josh Ehrlich (Marist) and will have three-year starters Harris and Evans as security blankets. Harris headlines a deep secondary with Hawkins, who has major interest from Colgate, Army and Navy. If inexperienced offensive and defensive lines develop, Broadneck should be in line for a fifth straight league title.

12. Concordia Prep

2021 Record: 10-2

Coach: Joe Battaglia

Final VSN 2021 ranking: 10

Players to watch: Jaden Alston, senior, running back; Jordan Brooks, senior, quarterback; Bryce Davis, senior, offensive/defensive line; Josh Derry, senior, wide receiver/defensive back; Trekis McColough, senior, defensive back

The Saints will aim for a second straight MIAA B championship this season. Twelve starters return, including all-league performers Alston and Monmouth commit Derry, as well as three-year starter Brooks on offense. Davis, who shined in last year’s title game victory over Loyola, will lead a young offensive and defensive front. Concordia will have tough non-league tests with A Conference stalwarts Gilman School and McDonogh before embarking on B play.

13. Franklin

2021 Record: 9-3

Coach: Anthony Burgos

Final VSN 2021 ranking: 15

Players to watch: Khalil Bilal, senior, wide receiver; Dab Duru, senior, defensive line; Bryce Ellison, senior, offensive line; Anthony Gibson, sophomore, running back; Najee Gregg, senior, offensive line; Antwan Morante, senior, linebacker

Despite inexperience, the Indians will again be a threat in Baltimore County. The offense has one returning starter in Bilal, and senior Billy Hartman and freshman Zander McCracken are vying for the starting quarterback spot. Duru will be the veteran on the defensive front, while several seniors, including Calvert Hall transfer Morante, will lead the linebacking corps.

14. Atholton

2021 Record: 10-2

Coach: Eric Woodson

Final VSN 2021 ranking: 13

Players to watch: Anthony Agasi, junior, defensive line; Mark Enamordo, junior, offensive line; Daniel Ogordi, junior, wide receiver/defensive back; Miles Scott, senior, quarterback; Deacon Watkins, senior, running back/linebacker; Dillon Watkins, senior, running back/linebacker

The Raiders are arguably Howard County’s best entering 2022. Scott, Dillon Watkins and twin brother Deacon form one of the area’s top backfields. Woodson thinks Atholton will be tough to run on defensively, with Dillon and Deacon Watkins moving to linebacker. Throw in speed at wide receiver and several newcomers on the interior, Atholton, which lost in the 3A state quarterfinals last year, hopes to go farther.

15. St. Mary’s

2021 Record: 6-4

Coach: Jason Budroni

Final VSN 2021 ranking: Not ranked

Players to watch: Dylan Carl, senior, defensive line; Casey Cavanaugh, senior, offensive line; Cotton, senior, running back; Nick Golini, senior, defensive back; Carson Pettibon, senior, quarterback; Casey Smith, senior, wide receiver; Shane Toal, senior, defensive back; Gabe Villatoro, senior, defensive back

The Saints should challenge for the MIAA B championship. Cotton and Cavanaugh, both all-league performers, headline nine returning starters. Budroni thinks the offense will be dynamic with Pettibon, who started for district powerhouse Gonzaga College last fall. Defensively, Carl, Golini, Toal and Gabe Villatoro return.

derek@varsitysportsnetwork.com

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