That role had become particularly important in the months following the end of the 2021 season. The Coyotes, often a Montgomery County mid-level program, needed to graduate 20 seniors and faced a drastic shortage of bodies and talent.
“The Night of the Seniors [last year], when we looked around and saw how big this group was and how small our junior class was, we realized we were going to have to do something,” Isaac said. “That’s when we realized we were going to have to be a lot more proactive.”
The Williams brothers therefore set out to find players. They hung around PE class, keeping an eye out for a combination that Ernest Williams described as “size and confidence”. When they found a student who might fit, they offered both concrete and abstract rewards: we can give you game time and we can give you the opportunity to change your future.
They had worked hard to bring in a dozen potential new players for the team’s spring training. Now Isaac Williams had another potential player walking right beside him down an empty hallway. Being proactive is one thing; being lucky is another.
“Hey, what class are you in?” Williams asked.
“Ninth,” replied Monga Mande.
Williams’ eyes lit up. This kid must have been around 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds.
“Do you know anything about football? Williams asked.
Monga Mande did not. At this point in his life, the teenager had no connection to the game. I never played it, never watched it, never thought about it. Of course, people often recommended him to him because of his size, but Monga Mande never considered playing. Once a year, her sister would light up the Super Bowl at halftime; that was the extent of his football exposure.
After their conversation, Monga Mande surveyed Williams’ pitch. He was looking for a change in his life. Two days later, he stayed after school to train with the team.
The 2022 Clarksburg Coyotes haven’t won a game this season, but are partly built on that desire for transformation, an urge to try something new. They have 12 players, including four starters, on the varsity roster who had never played organized football before this fall. Facing some of Maryland’s top programs week after week, the Coyotes rely on a different kind of commitment from players who learn the game as they go.
In high school, very few things can change your everyday life faster than joining a sports team. This is especially true for football, which presents constant physical and mental challenges.
The sport requires commitment but also something essential, say the Coyotes. Your body and your mind must become harder. Increased intensity is needed. Sometimes you have to get angry. You have to tell your arms, your legs, your neck and your chest to do things that seem absurd and, at times, extraordinary. Throw yourself at a body or a bullet. Plant yourself in front of a trailing back or loaded end. Put your faith, and often your safety, in the hands of 10 teammates.
It’s a game against nature. But each new Clarksburg player had their own reason for choosing him.
For Monga Mande, football represented an opportunity to get fit. A big kid, he hated going to the doctor because he felt like they would nitpick the things he was hurting. He had had enough of that feeling and saw football as a way to make it go away.
Junior defensive lineman Kurt Hull opted to play after beginning training during the pandemic. He entered his second year with new muscles but a lingering sense of boredom. “I needed something to occupy my time and allow me to do something productive,” Hull said. “I had nothing to do and wanted to learn new things.”
He tried out for the wrestling team last winter and enjoyed it. So when Isaac Williams approached him during training and asked him if he would consider football, he jumped at the chance.
Nigel Knight-Tabron was a Clarksburg basketball player for three years before considering playing football. Some uncles and cousins had played, and he had been interested in it for a long time, but his mother had concerns about safety. Before his senior year, his last real chance to play organized football, he convinced her.
“I think a bit of me just wanted that stereotypical high school football experience,” Knight-Tabron said.
Freshman Andrew Shin, unlike some of his teammates, has been playing football for a long time, mostly on the offensive line. But as he got closer to high school, he thought about playing quarterback. People always told him he had a good arm, but he found it hard to believe he could hold the most glamorous position.
“It’s hard to take the idea seriously,” Shin said. “It’s almost like a dream.”
Encouraged by friends, he took part in a seven-on-seven event last spring. Without any knowledge of technique, footwork or game calls, Shin played well enough to keep his dream alive and spent the summer training. The moment August arrived, he realized he had a chance to be Clarksburg’s starting quarterback.
On the first day of full-contact workouts, Knight-Tabron took a beating and immediately thought her mom was right.
“I got that first hit and my head started hurting a little bit and I was like, ‘Oh no, I have a concussion. The first day I had a concussion,’ Knight-Tabron said, “But I was fine.”
Over time, Knight-Tabron was unafraid of being hit. He enjoyed the adrenaline rush that often accompanied him. The more he practiced, the less hesitant his body became. Jonathan Travis, another senior wide receiver playing football for the first time, also found that his initial notions had faded.
“I thought it was just concussions all the time, people knocking your chin bar off all the time,” Travis said. “But it wasn’t so bad.”
Not all of the new players settled in as Game 1 approached. Monga Mande, playing on both the defensive and offensive line, briefly questioned his decision.
“For a good week I wondered if this was really for me,” he said. “First there was a lot of yelling. And I don’t like getting yelled at. I would line up wrong and get yelled at. And sometimes it wasn’t even my mistake, but I was shouted at it for that.
Not only was the second-year student bothered by the intensity of the atmosphere, but he wasn’t sure he could summon a fire within himself.
“Even though I look mean and look intimidating, I’m a nice guy,” Monga Mande said. “I don’t want to hurt people for no reason. If there’s no reason to hurt someone or hurt yourself, I don’t see the point. I think logically.”
He was only able to access this side of himself through his self-talk and his headphones. Before a game or practice, he would listen to musical artists such as rapper Chief Keef to boost his energy. Over time, he felt like he belonged on the pitch.
For Shin, the biggest change was taking on his leadership role. The young quarterback was barely comfortable being under center, let alone showing the communication skills and motivation to lead an offense.
“It was weird for me,” Shin said. “My teammates even said to me, ‘You have to command the team.’ I started to take this to heart.
Despite his inexperience, Shin seemed like the perfect quarterback for this Clarksburg group: a freshman heading into the unknown, backed by a roster of players with something to prove.
For a team that faced a much steeper early-season learning curve than most, the Coyotes were not favored by their schedule: four of the team’s first six opponents had won championships ‘State. It would be a trial by fire.
In the locker room before Game 1, a home game against Seneca Valley, Monga Mande found himself unable to speak much. The second is silent when he gets nervous, and this is perhaps the most nervous he has been in his life. “I’ll be honest: I was terrified,” said Monga Mande. “Like, terrified. I was scared.“
But at the first snap of play, Monga Mande said his nerves had dissipated. “I was touched and thought ‘Oh, is that it?’ said Monga Mande.
That game against Seneca Valley didn’t go well for the Coyotes, nor have the five games since. Clarksburg is 0-6 going into Friday’s game against Bethesda-Chevy Chase, after being outscored 281-35.
It can be difficult to maintain a positive attitude in the midst of all these losses. Frustrations build up and the workload can seem less interesting.
“Nobody wants to get to that point where you don’t have a lot of success and you start losing your team,” Isaac Williams said. “We try to tell them how unique this team is, but they have nothing to really rely on.”
Most new players admit that it can be hard to maintain perspective when you’re down several touchdowns. But the results are not what resonates most in their first months on the football pitch.
Shin talks about his future in the game, how he looks forward to being an experienced and confident senior quarterback one day. Hull describes what it’s like to tackle a running back and hear their name over the speakers. The two broads, Travis and Knight-Tabron, describe every detail of their first career receptions, done just months before their high school graduations.
And Monga Mande mentions the NFL game he watched in September, the first of his life. He found himself studying offensive linemen. Their technique, he said, was magnificent.