By Cody Mello-Klein | [email protected]
The Episcopal High School football team took to the field for training camp on the night of Aug. 19 with a combination of hard work and high hopes for its upcoming season, which officially kicks off on Sept. 7 with a home game against the Gilman School.
Coming out of the 2018-2019 season, Episcopal had a 6-3 record. The Maroon started the season off strong with six straight wins, before losing three games to Bullis, Georgetown Prep and Landon. The team ended the season on a high note, winning its annual non-conference game against Woodberry Forest by a narrow 25-21 margin.
Last year was Head Coach Mark Moroz’ first season with Episcopal. Originally from Toronto, Moroz brought with him 13 years of coaching experience. Before he began coaching, Moroz played football for Wake Forest and the National Football League’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But even for Moroz, the Interstate Athletic Conference proved an engaging challenge.
“We have currently five players with D1 offers, so we have talent, but, again, so does everybody else,” Moroz said. “It’s certainly a lot of fun to coach in this league because every week is a battle.”
This season, Moroz has his eye on certain games – specifically, the annual Woodberry game and an out-of-conference game against Catholic High School, formerly known as Bishop Sullivan Catholic High School. But, for now, the team is focused solely on training camp, which culminates in a pre-season scrimmage against Flint Hill School on Friday, Moroz said.
Over the past 10 days, his players have bonded and honed their already considerable talent, Moroz said. Moroz hopes all the work pays off this season.
“We have the potential to be very good,” Moroz said. “This is probably the best group of individual players I’ve seen. I just hope it’s the best team I’ve seen.”
This season is about maintaining strengths – the strong offensive line and sturdy defensive line – while also adding depth to the roster, Moroz said.
“As far as talent goes and schemes go, we’re right there. It’s just a matter of improving our depth,” Moroz said. “The trick now is
to blend in those young- er players, so that when there’s injuries late in the season we’ve got depth.”
Going into training camp, cornerback Eli Gaines, one of 22 seniors on the team, said creating a “push harder” mentality is just as important as nailing plays.
“This year, I feel like if we bring more intensity, practice harder and just have the mindset to be great, we can do a lot more special things than we did last year,” Gaines said.
Gaines’ teammates share his sentiment. Senior linebacker Ben Lee recalled words of wisdom his father, a football coach, shared with him: “There’s always another gear.”
“We know we can win more games,” Lee said. “We know we could have last year, but there’s another gear and we’re going to turn that on this season.”
With the start of train- ing camp on Aug. 19, Moroz established a number of lofty, long-term goals: win the IAC, go undefeated and win the Woodberry game at the end of the season. The latter is an annual 119-year tradition that attracts 6,000 to 8,000 fans and, due to where it falls in playoff season, makes Episcopal and its rival ineligible for the IAC playoffs.
Lee and Gaines both said those goals would be achievable as long as the team treated the entire season – every practice and every game – like the Woodberry game.
“To reach those big milestones it starts with the little things,” Gaines said. “Like little things in practice, little things off the field, on dorm or during school. Just taking note of those little things and perfecting those little things is what’s going to help us get to those big milestones.”
While it’s tempting for the players to think about the Woodberry matchup or major games throughout the season, they strive for a one-game-at-a-time mentality, Lee said.
“To me, the rivalry means less than the scrimmage that’s coming up,” Lee said. “That’s the game that I want to focus on right now.”
For senior players, there’s extra reason to savor each game. This season is the end of a four-year journey for many of Episcopal’s players – “the last ride,” Gaines said.
Players like Lee and Gaines, who came onto the team together as freshman and became friends through the program, said they wanted to make that last ride a worthwhile one. It’s not just the end of a season, they said; it’s the end of an era in their lives.
“I’m going to go out and give everything I have for my team, but I’m also extremely thankful I get to do it with the people I get to do it with,” Lee said. “The value of it won’t be determined by our record – even though I have big goals – it’ll be determined by the effort that I gave every day. I don’t want to regret anything.”
The last 10 days of training, film sessions and late-night dorm room hangouts have been a chance for the team to bond on and off the field before the season kicks into high gear. For now, there’s still plenty of work to be done.
“I just can’t wait to get started,” Gaines said.