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Mount Carmel steps into great unknown with football

Patrick Williams always wanted to play football, but his parents thought he would get hurt.

For his senior year at Essex’s Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School, the baseball standout has what may be his last chance to strap on a helmet and shoulder pads.

The 51-year-old Our Lady of Mount Carmel High School announced in June it was starting a football program. Now, just months later, head coach Robb Johnson is assembling a team that will play an independent varsity schedule this fall.

“Life is about taking risks,” said Williams, a quarterback hopeful. “You only live once.”

People around Mount Carmel are taking deep breaths as they wade into new territory.

Many players are fresh to the sport, so they’re getting a gridiron crash course before the team’s first game, which comes under the lights Sept. 10 at Eastern Regional Park against Baltimore Lutheran.

Eastern Regional will serve as the host of Mount Carmel’s three home games. About 25 players came out for the team in mid-August when the sun and humidity proved to be a brutal football introduction.

Athletic director Mike Naunton said the high school was losing some eighth graders from Our Lady of Mount Carmel Elementary School because they wanted to play football in high school.

The school wanted rising eighth graders to see a tangible product.

“It’s one thing for them to hear we’re going to start it and it’s another to see it started,” Naunton said.

Naunton said football will attract new students and ensure the school’s stability.

The independent schedule, which will feature teams from the Maryland Interscholastic B and C Conferences, will also give the coaches a year for adjustments.

Naunton put a head coaching position notice on craigslist.com. Johnson, a former star at Overlea High School and Morgan State University, salivated at the idea of starting a program.

“I thought Essex could be like one of the towns down in the southeast where football is king,” Johnson said. “We have all the talent here when you look at all the feeder (recreational) programs. This is a hotbed.”

Johnson formerly coached quarterbacks and served as a recruiting coordinator at Bowie State University. Lamar King, a 1999 first-round pick of the Seattle Seahawks, is serving as an assistant coach and was a star at Chesapeake High School.

Naunton said starting the football program cost $25,000.

Mount Carmel parent Joe Bartenfelder is the owner of Bartenfelder Farms and a candidate for Baltimore County Executive. He put together a series of donors, including Chapel Hill Farm & Nursery, Naunton said.

Bartenfelder, also a Democrat on the county council, turned his political fundraiser into a benefit for the football program that netted $16,000.

Some people might expect the Cougars to stumble initially, but Johnson isn’t one of them.

“Every time you step out on that field, there’s a chance to win, and I want these guys to know that,” he said. “If I’m not in it to win every game, then I’m in the wrong profession. We’re going to be successful this year.”