The story of the QO boys of ’07 is pure Hollywood.
Down 23-7 in the state final, the Cougars exploded for 29 points in the final 7 minutes 43 seconds to top Arundel, 36-30, for the championship. Tommy Addison, the all-Metro tailback who had suffered a disappointing game until then, erupted for three long touchdown runs and his brother, Travis Hawkins, clinched the victory taking a pass over the middle from injured QB Jaron Morrison and sprinting for a 78-yard TD.
“I don’t think you could write a movie script any better than the way it went down,” said team member Tyler Magill.
“I still get chills thinking about it,” said former head coach Dave Mencarini.
Mencarini and some 30 members of that undefeated 2007 team gathered at the Cougardome two weeks ago to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their stunning triumph, accept honors at halftime, mourn one of their own, and watch the 2017 Cougars continue their legacy in a first-ever match against private school power Bullis.
“It’s surreal,” said Mencarini, a sentiment echoed by many of his former players amid the electric atmosphere of the Cougardome. “I really can’t put into words. … It brings back a lot of emotions. … Being here with all these guys that are grown men now.”
“Great memories,” said Addison. “Just a good feeling seeing everyone come together and we’re able to celebrate this great moment that we had.”
“It’s just like we were together, like, last week,” said Cody Magill, Tyler’s brother. “You remember everything. Everybody’s faces look the same. Everybody’s got the same personality.”
“It feels like home,” said Morrison.
Even before that comeback against Arundel, the team had faced adversity. Morrison was injured in the playoffs, so the team couldn’t utilize his running ability in the title game.
And before and during the season, off-the-field adversity confronted the team. Mencarini’s father and assistant coach Joe had been diagnosed with cancer before the season began, and the team had become an important element of his support system. Then during the season, the mother of player Scotty Parsons died, and the team and community rallied to his support. The team became each other’s family and that bond made them stronger.
“I hope as they go on with their lives,” Mencarini said, “they look at that game and say ‘Man, nothing’s too big for us to overcome. The odds were against us. We were down … we found a way to win it.’”
The players got that message.
“Never give up,” said Hawkins when asked what he learned from that season. “Even when you’re down, even in life. When you’re at your highest high stay humble, when you’re at your lowest low stay hopeful.”
“Coach Mac always taught us: Play to the whistle,” said former lineman Terrence Stephens. “There was a lot to play for. The whole team just kind of clicked it on. It was something you will never see again.”
“Fight hard and believe in your teammates,” said Addison, who confessed he was “down” after fumbling twice against Arundel and got encouragement from Morrison and Mencarini. “Your teammates are your family, and they’re going to be with you for the end of time. … We never gave up. … This game was bigger than just us.”
Team members continue to share each other’s successes and, sadly, tragedies. Teammate Joe Jones died earlier this year in a motorcycle accident, and many team members gathered to celebrate his life. Jones’s parents and family were at the reunion and participated in the opening coin toss, and Montgomery County Police Officer P.J. Gregory, QO’s resource officer from 2004-09, honored Jones with a saxophone rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
“We’ve all come a long way,” said Stephens. “A lot of these guys have grown up in ways we probably never imagined. But it’s good to have everybody back. That’s what we do best. We celebrate with each other.”
Stephens, Hawkins, Jason Ankara, and Zach Kerr have played in the NFL. Kerr is still a lineman with the Denver Broncos and briefly “joined” the reunion via social media. Hawkins played in the Canadian Football League and Addison in Europe. Others have gone to college, grad school, military service and careers in business, IT, government, engineering, and other fields. Some are married and have children. Mencarini is now on the football staff at University of Maryland.
“The success really is not what they did in ’07,” said Mencarini. “It’s what they’ve done the last 10 years. … We’ve all stayed in touch. We’ve stayed involved in each other’s lives.”
“It makes my job worth it” said Officer Gregory, who mentored many of the players at QO and takes pride in how they’ve grown in life.
So, as the night went on, the boys of ‘07 and their coach huddled together near one end zone, traded tales, laughed, joked, and basked in being together again on the hallowed Bermuda grass of the Cougardome … until the scriptwriters took over again.
The 2017 Cougars had hurt themselves early against Bullis and were down 21-7 at the half. But they roared back in the second half and it was 28-21 Bullis as the fourth quarter began. Suddenly conversations among the alumni stopped, they edged closer to the field, and became fully engaged in another classic Cougar comeback. Mencarini, always an emotional coach, chewed on a towel as he often did on the QO sidelines. Stephens sprinted around the QO bench, shouting encouragement to individual players.
“This is crazy, man!” Morrison laughed as the Red Army rocked the ‘dome.
But the script ended differently this time. The current Cougars fell one point short in overtime. At least on this night, there was no Hollywood ending.
As the excitement of the evening waned and the fans filed from the stadium, the boys of 2017 trod the same steps to the same locker room as their predecessors a decade before, their story still a work in progress.
But the boys—now the men—of ’07 repaired to Quincy’s, still the team that established the QO credos of never giving up, fighting to the end, playing for those who came before, and setting the standard for those who follow, secure in the knowledge that the program remains where they left it, and their legacy remains intact.