Love of football and shaping young lives keep Winters Mill, Westminster coaches in play

Falcons' Ken Johnson and Owls' Brad Wilson are birds of a feather

  • Winters Mill head football coach Ken Johnson, left, and Westminster Owl head coach Brad Wilson.
Winters Mill head football coach Ken Johnson, left, and Westminster… (Photos by Phil Grout )
August 30, 2012|By Steve Jones

Five miles separate the workplaces of Brad Wilson and Ken Johnson.

In their long and distinguished coaching careers, they've walked a lot further than that distance on their respective sidelines.

Wilson is beginning his ninth year as the head football coach at Westminster High School.

Johnson, the dean of Carroll coaches, is in his 10th season at Winters Mill and his 19th overall in the county.

The two preside over football programs that have become successful largely because of their abiding commitment to the young men they've influenced through the years.

Life of Sport

Brad Wilson prepared for a career in athletics from a young age. A 1978 graduate of Meade High School, he played three sports for the Mustangs. He moved on to Anne Arundel Community College, where he played football, basketball and baseball for two years.

He played another year of football at Frostburg State College, but Wilson's career ended after he tore ligaments in his ankle. When he returned home for Christmas break, his high school coach Butch Young offered him a coaching position.

"He said that if I transferred back here, I could help coach the baseball team," Wilson said. "Coaching was what I wanted to do, so I decided to take the job."

Within the next year, Wilson became an assistant varsity football coach on the staff of his former coach, Jerry Mears, and accepted an offer to serve as the head jayvee basketball coach at Meade. The three-sport athlete had become a three-sport coach.

"There aren't too many people who can say that they coached under their high school coaches," Wilson said. "I ended up staying at Meade for 10 more years."

Coaching three sports was a time-consuming exercise, and Wilson took a hiatus from college. But there was one hitch.

"They called me in during one summer and asked if I was going back to school," Wilson said. "I told them that I eventually would. They said 'yeah, you are.' I had to enroll the next day, or I wouldn't be coaching there anymore."

Wilson immediately enrolled in summer school at Towson State University, and earned his degree in education in 1987.

When Mears died, Arundel's Chuck Markiewicz became the head coach at Meade and promoted Wilson to varsity defensive coordinator. They served together for three years before Markiewicz was hired as the head coach at North County High. Wilson went north with him. In 2000, Wilson got his first head coaching position when he was tabbed to lead the Glen Burnie High program.

"It was tough for me to leave North County and coach Markiewicz, but I wanted to be a head football coach," Wilson said.

He coached the Gophers for four years, and led a losing football program out of the wilderness. Wilson's teams were winless his first two years, then went 7-3 and narrowly missed the playoffs. His final Glen Burnie team, featuring current Kansas City Chiefs' offensive tackle Branden Albert, finished 6-4.

By 2004, Wilson was ready for another challenge. After coaching in Anne Arundel County for 24 years, he decided to apply for the head coaching position at Westminster.

"At that point in my life, I just needed a change," Wilson said. "I wanted to go to a place where there was a football tradition, and where the game was important. That was Westminster."

Under Wilson's leadership, the Owls took flight. After a 5-5 season in 2004, Wilson and his staff guided one of the best teams in county history. The 2005 Owls were the class of the county and the region, completing the regular season with a 9-1 mark and earning the top seed in the Class 3A North playoffs.

A first-round victory over Linganore was followed by a 38-20 pounding of traditional power Seneca Valley in the region final. The Owls routed a good City team in the semifinals to earn Westminster's first spot in a state championship game since 1976.

In a memorable title game at M&T Bank Stadium, Westminster battled Gwynn Park before losing in double overtime. While Wilson enjoys the victories, a photo taken at the conclusion of that crushing loss sits prominently in his office. The photo shows Wilson hugging team captain Ryan Finch just after Gwynn Park scored the title-winning touchdown.

That poignant moment captures why Wilson chose to become a coach, and has stayed in the profession for 32 years.

"It's gratifying to see young men come in as freshmen and mature, inside and outside the classroom," Wilson said. "I love the game of football, because it teaches young men a lot about life. I love being out there Monday through Thursday, teaching the players about self-discipline, self-respect and the importance of respecting your opponents, about taking pride in yourself and the work that you produce.

"I really think that what you do out there (on the football field) carries over to the classroom and into your home life."

After the loss to Gwynn Park, the Owls experienced a couple of trying seasons before returning to the playoffs in 2008, where they fell to a mighty Linganore team.

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