The St. Frances Academy football team is one of the most successful high school teams in the country. They're also in the middle of an athletic controversy in Baltimore.
"It's definitely been one of the craziest offseasons I've ever had," said St. Frances Co-Head Coach Henry Russell.
"It was unexpected. I don't think anybody could have predicted it," added St. Frances senior linebacker Shane Lee.
Training camp is far from normal this summer for the Panthers. It follows an offseason like few programs have ever seen.
"It was a normal offseason for us up until right after Memorial Day weekend. Then, obviously, we started getting the word that all of the schools in the league weren't going to play us this year," said Russell.
Citing reasons like unbalanced talent level and player safety every single school in the Panthers' league, the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, has forfeited its upcoming 2018 game against St. Frances. The Panthers have produced several Division I college prospects over the past few years.
They are ranked among the top ten teams in the country.
The Panthers are coming off back-to-back MIAA 'A' Conference championships. They outscored opponents 534-61 last season.
Their resurgence has come under the guidance of Co-Head Coach Biff Poggi, who led rival Gilman to multiple titles before joining St. Frances prior to last season. He also helps fund the Panthers program and pays the way for some players.
St. Frances recruits junior and senior transfers from around Baltimore, Maryland and out of state. The program maintains they've done nothing wrong and every player added has been approved by the MIAA.
"Most of those kids have come from situations that are pretty similar to what our kids here in Baltimore face," said Russell. "If we're helping a kid out I'm not going to apologize, Coach Poggi's not going to apologize, the school's not going to apologize for helping a kid that maybe doesn't have a chance at another private school."
Poggi declined to be interviewed for this story.
The ones caught in the middle of this scheduling controversy are the players on the field, who feel singled out. They're thinking 'Why us'?
"I ask myself that every day. I don't understand why teams wouldn't want to play us," said senior offensive lineman Darrian Dalcourt. "Everybody has their own opinions. It's just something you have to deal with, honest. We can't change what's going on."
For the upcoming season the Panthers have put together a nine-game national schedule. Players see it as a brand new opportunity.
"I like the way we look. We're starting to come together and we're starting to become brothers. We lost a lot of seniors last year. We've got some young guys that are going to have to step up. I'm excited to see what's going to happen," said Lee.
St. Frances opens their national schedule against a national powerhouse, St. Joseph of Philadelphia, Friday August, 31 when the two teams play at Maryland Stadium in College Park.
The MIAA still considers St. Frances a member of the league. Leadership hopes to release a statement on the 'A' conference football situation by the beginning of next week.