In 1968, Stanley Mitchell was just two years out of Dunbar -- barely older than the football players he now coaches there.
Yet there he was, a soldier in Vietnam, trembling while stuck in a bunker on a hill in Khe Sanh during the Tet Offensive.
"We were fired on all day and all night, but we had orders to hold the position," said Mitchell, 47, and walking with a limp toward a right leg rendered two inches shorter from total hip replacement surgery 10 years ago.
"I was a short-timer with 30 days of service left, waiting and wanting to go home. I was just going on faith, one day at a time."
Since Mitchell's controversial replacement of former Dunbar coach Pete Pompey, now at Edmondson after a school board investigation was dropped for alleged misuse of Dunbar athletic funds, the third-year coach has asked players and Dunbar's community to have similar faith.
Last year, Mitchell's Poets delivered, going 12-0, winning the city's first state football title, earning a No. 1 area ranking and a No. 2 state ranking. Ten players from that team are in college, among them All-Metro running back Reggie Boyce (Florida A&M;).
"Coach Stan was like a big brother, always on me about grades," said Boyce, "He taught you to block out the distractions and just do your job. That overshadows anything anyone can say about you."
Similar lessons are still being taught, said senior lineman Dwayne Green.
"He's told us stories about what it was like in the war. The streets can be tough, but they can't be like Vietnam," said Green "You get a feeling the man understands what's ahead of us in life."
During his first months as interim head coach, Mitchell barely kept his head above water while riding a wave of unrest. On a daily basis, Pompey supporters protested around the practice field. Some players remained loyal to Pompey.
After his first season, Mitchell was named All-Metro Coach of the Year for leading Dunbar (8-3) to the state semifinals. Principal Charlotte Brown "gave me the position permanently. I felt this team was truly mine, and could impose my concepts freely," he said.
A defensive back and linebacker before graduating from Dunbar in 1966, Mitchell did not play at Morgan, graduating in 1976, but played for five years with the semipro Hanover (Pa.) Rhinos.
Mitchell coached in the Northwood 11- to 13-year-old Pop Warner program from 1986 to 1991, winning a national title in 1991 after being runners-up in '90.
Among his past pupils was City graduate Hari Lymon, The Baltimore Sun's 1991 Offensive Player of the Year who is now at Johns Hopkins. Yet never in his career, Mitchell claims, has he played favorites.
"All-American or not, I'll sit you down if you're disrespectful to coaches, other players or the team," said Mitchell, an assistant -- director of facility operations and resident life at Morgan State.
Tommy Polley, last year's All-Metro Defensive Player of the Year, can attest to that after being benched against Calvert Hall two weeks ago. "It's his wake-up call to say nothing's given to you in life," Polley said. "He lets you know not to take anything for granted."