Defending champion Cougars to protect the crown
GAITHERSBURG – There is a sign outside Quince Orchard High School that reads “2018 State Football Champions” in capital letters.
Its proximity to the Cougar Dome serves as a firm reminder of the long road the Cougars walked to earn the right to be called champions. The 2018 season was fraught with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for Quince Orchard.
The tragic death of former teammate Tyler Terry before the season generated the motivation the players needed to succeed. The phrase “do it for six” was repeated as a mantra, even on the state’s stage at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
That stage was a familiar one for the Cougars. After all, they had been there three years in a row and lost both of the previous two games against Dr. Henry A. Wise Jr. High School.
However, the stars aligned for Quince Orchard in 2018, and that 40-33 win over North Point High School brought a title back to the Cougar Dome after an 11-year drought. The championship victory was made even more satisfying by the fact that Quince Orchard had eliminated archrival Wise from the postseason just a week before.
Both of those essential wins showcased a dominant performance by an invaluable piece of Quince Orchard’s puzzle.
Senior running back Marquez Cooper’s 2018 stats read like something out of a video game: 2,021 yards on the ground and 38 touchdowns. He also accounted for three touchdowns and 243 yards in the state championship game. North Point did not have an answer for Cooper and neither, apparently, did any team in Montgomery County.
“Last season was just magical, man. Everybody wanted it, everybody was motivated, and we had something to be motivated about…we all just wanted it so badly, and we went and got it,” said Cooper. “My expectations (this year) are nothing less than a state championship.”
Quince Orchard Head Coach John Kelley was quick to state that 2019 is a new year and a brand new season, and the 2019 Cougars have not won anything yet.
Cooper lauded his offensive linemen on multiple occasions and even requested that they stand around him during a postgame interview last season, but four of those five starting linemen have since graduated.
Cooper said he is building rapport with the new linemen, and his personal goal for 2019 is to make his 2018 stats look easy to achieve.
The senior, who has committed to Kent State University, is looking to finish off his high school career with 2,500 yards and 45 to 50 touchdowns. Cooper does not just want to be the best in Montgomery County; he wants to be the best running back in the state.
“I love to play the game of football, so I love the pressure, and I do well under pressure,” said Cooper. “Pressure is fine with me, but I think a lot of dudes other than me are also going to play a key role in this year’s success.”
Starting quarterback Brian Plummer will be returning to the team for his junior year. Plummer’s quiet leadership provided contrast to Cooper’s flash and dash, but the quarterback’s 2018 statistics speak for themselves. Plummer threw for over 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns and even slipped through Wise’s notorious defense for a one-yard touchdown in the state semifinals.
“Plummer has got a good arm, he’s a good athlete, and he’s football savvy. He’s a hard worker. I expect him to make plays for us too in the passing game,” said Kelley.
Like Cooper, Plummer’s goals for the 2019 season are lofty ones. He wants to throw for 800 yards more than he did in his sophomore year.
Plummer’s ambitions may not be far off the mark since the Cougars have great depth at the wide receiver position.
Seniors Ryan Luke and Ryan Swigart are projected to be the starters; Swigart spent the 2018 season with Good Counsel. Another new addition to the wide receiver corps is Larry Hackey, who previously played for Paint Branch High School. Just like last season, running back and rising junior Jeremiah White will trade handoffs with Cooper in the backfield.
“We’ve got some new guys, but in practice, we’re just building chemistry right now and working on plays so we can get them right and crisp,” said Plummer.
The distinction of being defending state champions brings new talent and attention to the program both on the field and on the sidelines. Fred Kim spent 15 years at Seneca Valley High School as the head coach and enjoyed several successful seasons at the helm of the Screamin’ Eagles program before joining Quince Orchard as its defensive coordinator in 2019.
“Fred brings over 15 years of experience as a head coach and over 25 years coaching high school football,” said Kelley. “That type of leadership is great to have in our program and to be around our kids.”
One player that stands to benefit from Kim’s guidance is outside linebacker Demeioun Robinson.
The rising junior did not open 2018 as a starter, but he worked his way into the role and started the last seven games. The 6-foot-4, 210 pound Robinson was ranked the number four college prospect for 2021 and has already received offers from schools like Tennessee, LSU, Virginia Tech, Penn State and Ohio State.
“I had to put in a lot of work to get my spot,” said Robinson. “These offers don’t mean anything for me right now. I still have to work hard and put in the work.”
Robinson said his main motivation for improving and working hard is his older brother, Arthur Johnson, who passed away. Cooper’s drive and work ethic come from a similar motivation – his late uncle Dominique Chase, who taught him how to play football. Cooper has Chase’s initials tattooed on his right arm.
“He showed me how to play football. You can’t teach heart, but he gave me the heart that I have today,” said Cooper. “It’s just amazing what he has done for me. I’m playing for him, and I’m leaving it all on the table for him when it’s all said and done.”
Cooper also credited his uncle after Quince Orchard won the state championship in Annapolis. And if Cooper has his way, the Cougars will return to that stage again in 2019.
“Everybody has a phenomenal grind, and everybody wants to work. Everybody goes in the weight room and is just locked in. It’s just a different grind we have this year,” said Cooper. “We know now what we have to do and how to do it. We have to live up to exactly what we did last year.”
Quince Orchard will take on Wootton High School on Sept. 6.