Leonardtown High School football has been through ups and downs over the past several years and is looking to turn the corner with the hiring of Justin Cunningham as its new head coach.
The school announced Cunningham’s hiring in an April 24 news release.
“We are looking to establish a quality program, one that wins games. Before [Alan Raley], Ron Weinberger was here three or four years,” Leonardtown athletic/activities director Randy Tira said. “As with any coach we hire we look for a positive role model, a coach with a plan to move our program forward and a good leader. We had several very qualified applicants and we feel that coach Cunningham is a good fit for our program.”
Cunningham was an assistant head varsity coach for the past nine years at DeMatha High School in Hyattsville. He had 16 total years of coaching experience at the school, which includes helping guide the Stags to 10 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships and seeing many players go on to have college and NFL success, according to the release.
“I have a friend of mine who is an athletic director at another school in Southern Maryland and told me Leonardtown is looking for a coach,” Cunningham said. “I sent him my résumé and Randy contacted me about a week or so later. I didn’t know the job was open and I’m up at DeMatha and live in Calvert County, so once I heard I was interested.”
Cunningham said that the decision to leave DeMatha after spending much of his professional career there was a tough one.
“I’ve enjoyed the coaches and players at DeMatha. That’s what we will try to do down at Leonardtown,” he said. “For me it’s bittersweet. That doesn’t change my past, being a DeMatha guy and then being a Leonardtown guy. This was not an easy decision for me, but I think it’s the right decision. My wife works in Lexington Park and it’s a perfect marriage so to speak.”
Cunningham, a University of Maryland graduate, played high school football at Calvert High School where he was a team captain and three-year varsity letter winner. He lives in Huntingtown with his wife of three years, Emily.
“It’s kind of like a perfect opportunity for me,” he said. “I would have liked to be the head coach at DeMatha and I knew I wanted to be a head coach. When I heard about Leonardtown, it was a no brainer. Mrs. Jill Mills and Randy Tira are supportive and awesome. I’m not a jumper and Leonardtown is a place where I would like to build something and be successful for years.”
Cunningham was among the candidates for the head coaching job at DeMatha when Elijah Brooks left the school to join the Maryland football staff.
“We’ve had so many great kids over the years,” he said. “We’ve been in a lot of games where we’ve had to fight and show adversity. In 2017 we were in the [WCAC] championship game down 15 points with under 7 minutes to go and we came back to win. If we weren’t together and doing the right things off the field, scoring three touchdowns in the last seven minutes. Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.”
Cunningham hopes to bring a positive attitude to Leonardtown and build a winning football program from the ground up.
“There hasn’t been a lot of success down there, about 34 wins in the past 15 years,” he said. “There’s ways to change that and systems and processes. It starts with the people, the players, the parents and how your interacting in the community. We are always going to make sure we are doing the right thing. When you have good people it’s kind of hard to go wrong.”
The school will host a meet and greet for the public in the auditorium at 7 p.m. Thursday.
“I want to build a program from the ground up,” Cunningham said. “I’m going to talk about doing the right thing a lot. The wins will come off of that. Everyone dives in and sees what’s going on. It will provide positive energy. There are some good athletes and we will make playing football cool and be competitive again.”