Hammond High School has found its man.
Justin Carey, the former defensive coordinator at Atholton, has been hired as the Golden Bears' new head football coach, Hammond athletics and activities manager Joe Russo announced last week.
"I'm very excited and ready for this new opportunity," said the 25-year-old Carey. "The talent level is here. The talent is in the building."
After graduating from Bowie State three years ago, Carey caught on as linebackers coach at Atholton High School. A year later he ascended to defensive coordinator, the role he served each of the past two seasons.
Over the past three years, Atholton has won 28 games while allowing less than 10 points per game. Yet the Raiders were eliminated from the playoffs each season by a local team, first in 2010 by Wilde Lake and then by River Hill in 2011 and 2012. Each of those teams went on to win a state title.
"At first I was afraid of change, I didn't have my priorities straight," Carey said. "I just wanted to be the best defensive coordinator I could be. I wanted to get that state championship and beat our friends (River Hill) down the street. We were almost over the hump, but opportunities like this don't come along very often."
Atholton head coach Kyle Schmitt, who just completed his fourth season leading the Raiders, has called Carey the best defensive coordinator in the state. Carey said Schmitt advised him to take the Hammond job.
"Kyle Schmitt guided me and really put me in the right direction as far as my career," Carey said. "He taught me a lot in terms of program organization ... He's going to mentor me through the next few years."
Atholton and Hammond will not play each other in the 2013 or 2014 seasons, but Schmitt said that he looks forward to scrimmaging against his former assistant, and keeping in touch.
"Justin was a really big part in our weight room. That's where we'll miss him a lot, and obviously on defense. I gave him the keys to the defense," Schmitt said. "The kids loved him. We try to promote a family atmosphere here."
"But he'll be five minutes down the road. He's not going across the country."
Carey, who grew up in Howard County, spent his freshman year at Atholton before becoming part of the first graduating class at Reservoir High School. He earned second team all-county football honors with the Gators before moving onto Bowie State, where he starred at linebacker. Two of his Bowie State teammates — Troy Gibson and Kevin James — will make the move from the Atholton coaching staff to Hammond as well.
Carey, who is working on his Master's degree at Bowie State, is employed as a business and tech-ed teacher at Hammond High School.
"I'm really focused on players' academics here. I want to put a system in place here over the next few years that allows us to succeed as a program," he said.
Carey takes over for coach Dan Makosy after four seasons. In 2010, Makosy — who formerly coached Damascus to three state titles — led the Golden Bears to their best season in school history: a 10-2 record, a share of the county championship and a playoff berth. In four seasons Makosy led Hammond to a 24-18 record, reversing a trend in which the Golden Bears had lost 24 of 25.
There is still one football coaching vacancy in Howard County, as Long Reach continues the search for longtime coach Pete Hughes' successor. Hughes, who has been Long Reach's only head coach since the school opened in 1996, was the county's longest tenured head coach with 17 seasons of experience.
He coached the Lightning to playoff appearances in 1997, 2004 and 2005, when the team also won the county title.
Hughes grew up in this area, graduating from Woodlawn High, where he played baseball and football.
He went on to play football collegiately for Division II Valley City State University in North Dakota, graduating in 1981 after earning all-conference honors his sophomore, junior and senior seasons.
After coaching high school football for several seasons in North Dakota, Hughes moved back to Maryland and was defensive coordinator for 10 years at Hammond High, where he also coached track. Then, in 1996, Hughes became Long Reach's first football coach.
In 15 of his 17 seasons, Hughes coached the Lightning to a .500 record or better. The two losing seasons were the team's inaugural season and this year, when Long Reach finished 3-7 but won its last game. Hughes finishes with a career record of 109-64 at Long Reach.
Hughes said that while he has no plans to return to head coaching, he would eventually be interested in returning as an assistant.
"I'm 56, I'm definitely still young enough, I'm still in good shape. I have 31 years of total coaching experience. I'm still going to clinics in the offseason," said Hughes, who added that longtime assistant Dale Greene would also be stepping down.
Hughes says that he will still coach indoor and outdoor track at Long Reach, and will helping out with the football team in any way he can. Just not as the head coach.
The Long Reach position "is a good opportunity," he said. "It's a good school and there's some good talent coming up from the JV. The youth coaches are doing a great job, kids are coming in prepared."