All-County Football: Cunningham led Hubs through adversity, reality
Dan Cunningham, North Hagerstown football coach
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From the time the Hubs were able to put on their pads and hit in the preseason, they hit.
And they kept hitting until their season ended. And they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
North coach Dan Cunningham wanted to make practices as realistic as possible.
And why not? The Hubs dealt with large helpings of reality off the field before the season began.
But North overcame an early nonconference loss and that off-field adversity to rattle off eight straight wins and qualify for the Maryland Class 3A playoffs.
For keeping the Hubs pointed in the right direction — as well as becoming the school’s winningest coach — Cunningham is The Herald-Mail’s Washington County Football Coach of the Year.
“You always have that thought in the back of your head that kids can’t take another strike against them,” Cunningham said. “It says a lot about our coaches that we were able to comfort them and help them pull together. Life’s about the choices you make and how you react to them, and they reacted well this year.”
The hits started coming for the Hubs on Aug. 10, the day before the season’s first practice, when Phillip Butler — North’s record-setting running back in 2011 — found himself in the Washington County Detention Center on charges he set up an armed robbery.
Just over a week later, on Aug. 18, North lineman Aaron Miller was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia and spent much of the season in the hospital.
A 20-14 loss to Frederick in Week 2 put the Hubs at 1-1 and made every other game they played a must-win.
“We had some pretty solid scrimmages, but all of this adversity with (Butler), with Aaron’s diagnosis and a loss in the second week, you worry that (the season) might get away,” Cunningham said. “After we lost to Frederick, things came together. We had really good senior leadership this year. They had to face that adversity and that made them stronger as individuals.”
From there, the Hubs went on a tear by winning eight in a row to finish the regular season at 9-1, earning them the No. 3 seed in the 3A West playoffs.
Included in that streak was a 48-6 win over Catoctin on Oct. 18. It was Cunningham’s 70th win as head coach, moving him past Glenn Cross for the most wins at North.
“He taught me everything I know about coaching,” said Cunningham, who played for Cross from 1988 to 1990 and served as an assistant under him. “There are still times I go to him during the week and ask what he thinks of this or that, and he’s still right there to give me his opinions.
“I’m honored to be where I am. I graduated from North, I have tremendous respect for North. There’s no other place I’d want to be.”