The plan

ON HGIH SCHOOLS

Eaton's blueprint still works fine

Dunbar football

December 07, 2007|By MILTON KENT

At least 20 times a day, Lawrence Smith figures, he speaks the name of Ben Eaton, but Smith believes he says the things Eaton would say all the time.

That's important to Smith, because when Eaton died Aug. 27, he not only left the Dunbar football team to Smith's care as coach, but he also left a model for winning football games and guiding young men. And Smith figures that because Eaton had so much success, it would be silly not to follow it.

"I'm always reflecting back on what he has taught us and the things he always talked about," said Smith, who coached the offensive line on Eaton's staff. "The program, the program, the program. Everything we do is basically what Coach Eaton would have wanted. There's nothing different. I'm just trying to run the team the way he would run it."

If all there was to following in Ben Eaton's footsteps was to win football games, then anyone theoretically could do it, especially with this year's team, which faces Allegany tomorrow at M&T Bank Stadium for a chance at a second straight state Class 1A title.

Second-ranked Dunbar (13-0) has dominated opponents this season, with a 10-point win over City its closest challenge. In their three playoff games, the Poets have trampled the opposition by a combined score of 128-42.

Dunbar's defense has been stout and opportunistic, led by a defensive line with more than 30 sacks. And the offense has been nothing short of amazing, led by all-world back Tavon Austin, who, as a mere junior, already has smashed the state career touchdown record.

Of course, Smith's challenge, just as it was with Eaton, is to manage the desires of one of the most demanding alumni bases in the city and provide a source of strength to his players.

As any coach of an inner-city high school program will tell you, leadership doesn't end when the last kid leaves the locker room. It's a 24/7 job and certainly not one for the faint of heart. Smith, a Baltimore City schools police officer assigned to Dunbar, is, at 33, a quarter-century younger than Eaton was, but he is wise enough to know that he is not just his players' coach; in some cases he's also their principal male role model.

"Anyone can look at what we do on Saturdays and say, `That job is easy,' " Smith said. "Let's look at us Monday to Friday, when you see these kids. Maybe you have a kid that doesn't have a stable home, or maybe there's a kid who's not going to have a Christmas or we have to take them food because they live with their grandma. These are the kinds of things you have to understand when you coach in Baltimore City public schools.

"Coach Eaton's biggest thing was when you can get to this level and sit in this room [on the concourse level of M&T Bank Stadium] with these coaches and know what we have to deal with, that shows that you did your job."

Doug DuVall, Wilde Lake's coach, was one of Ben Eaton's best friends in coaching. Their schools scrimmaged annually, including a few days after Eaton's death, and more than most, DuVall knows that Eaton, a former line coach, would endorse what Smith is doing.

"It's a very hard job, other than he knows that Ben wanted him to do it and he would want him to do just what he's been doing without missing a beat," DuVall said. "Pick up the whistle and go to work. It's got to be hard for him, but Lawrence knows what Ben would want him to do and how he'd want him to do it, and he does it."

Of course, Smith has not worked this wonder alone. His coaches - defensive coordinator Andy Powell, offensive coordinator Travis Blackston and assistant coaches David Lewis, William Crawford and Reggie Boyce - were with Eaton, too. He also has leaned heavily on Dunbar athletic director Barbara Allen and Sandra Eaton and Ben Eaton Jr., the late coach's widow and son, for support.

By midafternoon tomorrow, Smith will know if a state championship trophy will cap this remarkable season. But even if doesn't, he will rest easily knowing he did it the way Ben Eaton would have.

"We've already had our happy ending, because we're a family," Smith said. "Win, lose or draw, we're going to walk out of this with our heads held high and know that we did our best job for ourselves, the program and Coach Eaton."

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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