A former high school wrestling champion pleaded guilty Tuesday to second-degree assault for beating up a Towson University student in November 2009, after the annual Turkey Bowl high school football game at M&T Bank Stadium.

The plea resolves the last of three assault cases filed against James Patrick Downey III, a star athlete who was charged in a string of fights that occurred over a 10-month period. One of the cases against him was dropped in March and another was indefinitely postponed Tuesday.

In the remaining case, Downey, who was also the starting quarterback at North County High School before his arrests, was sentenced to 10 years in prison, with all but six days of the term suspended. His mother sobbed as he was taken into custody after the court proceeding.

"I think that you need an eye-opener, Mr. Downey, and beginning in about five minutes, your eyes are going to be opened, because the world is going to be very different for you," Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Timothy J. Doory said, shortly before Downey was handcuffed.

"The doors of a prison are going to slam behind you," Doory said, then added, "I hope you come out of there with a totally different attitude about life and a totally different attitude about solving problems — perceived problems."

Downey was 17 when he assaulted Connor Little outside the Turkey Bowl, pummeling him with a series of punches that broke Little's jaw, blackened his eyes and knocked out four teeth. In answer to an inquiry from the judge, Downey's attorney, Warren Brown, said the incident stemmed from some kind of "gray area" altercation that got "out of hand."

"That doesn't really give me an answer," the judge said, "but one has to note that sporting events give rise to violence … a very unfortunate development in the way people deal with each other in America in this time."

Downey's father has previously said that his son was defending himself. But Little, who appeared in court to give a victim impact statement, said the beating was unprovoked and without reason.

Little claimed that the incident has turned him from a fun-loving young man to someone who's withdrawn, anxious and fearful.

Downey apologized for the "hard process," saying he was "sorry that it had to happen the way that it did."

He was ordered to stay away from Little and pay him $3,500 restitution over the next year and to take anger management classes.

Downey began serving his brief sentence immediately, so he could resume his wrestling career, which involves extensive travel. Downey, a recent high school graduate, won the 189-pound weight class of the Senior National Wrestling Championship held in May.

He will be on probation for 18 months after he's released from jail, and could be sentenced to the full 10 years if he's arrested again during that time.

There are plenty of prisons around the country, Doory told the defendant, and there will "always be room for you" if needed.

tricia.bishop@baltsun.com