The office of Morgan State's assistant director of housing resembled a football locker room. Shoulder pads were arranged neatly in stacks, and helmets formed a large pile.
Is Stanley Mitchell, a former Dunbar High and Morgan State athlete, contemplating a comeback at 43, bum hip and all?
Hardly. Mitchell's office simply was the handiest place for the players to drop off equipment after the Northwood Rams 11-13 age group midget team captured the Pop Warner National Championship on Dec. 14 in Jacksonville, Fla.
In the title game, Northwood completed a 13-0 season by beating the Pleasant Grove Trojans of Dallas, 14-0, as Carlrome Randle and Dana Washington scored the touchdowns. That compensated, at least in part, for the Rams' 30-0 loss to Danbury, Conn., in last year's championship game in California.
The road to Jacksonville wasn't entirely smooth.
Washington and James Blue were the only returning veterans from the 1990 team that finished 12-1, and even they weren't starters then. Eight newcomers had never played organized football; indeed, they were untrained in push-ups and sit-ups. Mitchell also had 10 graduates of Northwood's junior midget team.
"Four kids on the offensive line were new to football," Mitchell said. "We lost the left and right tackles in the middle of the season, one with a broken collarbone, the other with a broken ankle.
"Both did it playing football in the street, not with us. We replaced them with the backup tight end and a defensive tackle."
A bachelor who likes "working with kids," Mitchell joined the Northwood program six years ago as an assistant coach of the 9-11 age-group team. He became head coach of the 11-13-year-olds in 1987 after they had gone 1-9 the season before.
They were 9-1 in Mitchell's first season and reached the Maryland Football Association championship game, losing to Overlea. The Rams lost one game in each of the next three seasons before going the distance this year.
First came the spotless regular season, then the Maryland and five-state Middle Atlantic regional titles. The victory over Dallas raised the Rams' season scoring total to 326 points (against 32 allowed) and put Mitchell's five-year record at 51-4.
"Putting it another way, if I've touched the lives of 51 boys and failed to reach only four, I feel I've accomplished my goal as a coach and person," Mitchell said.
Alumni of a Morgan State fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, had a role in the Rams' bountiful season, providing tutoring for the players in their schoolwork.
This week, as a team community project, the players gave two food baskets to needy families. In mid-January, the team will go before Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to receive greetings, praise and citations.
Mitchell plans to retire now as Northwood coach before the hobby breaks him -- he spent more than $750 of his own money on the team this year -- but intends to be active in a recently formed organization, 100 Black Men of Maryland.
"It's a mentor program designed to reach young kids," Mitchell said. "It can't be all football; it has to be academics, too, and male guidance."
Even if Mitchell doesn't coach again, he'll continue to see the fruits of his labor. Graduates of his team populate local high school rosters.
"When I go to high school games," Mitchell said, "my players are mostly the stars."