Ben Eaton Jr. gripped both sides of the lectern as if he had an opposing quarterback in his grasp. "He taught me to be a real man, husband and great father," he said.
Eaton Jr., the former Gilman linebacker and The Sun's 2006 Defensive Player of the Year now playing at Mercersburg (Pa.) Academy, was among those who spoke at Ben Eaton Sr.'s funeral yesterday at the Carl H. Murphy Fine Arts Center at Morgan State.
"I had him for 18 years, and I will take care of my mom, " said Eaton Jr., looking at his mother, Sandra.
Eaton Sr., the revered Dunbar football coach and physical education teacher, died of an apparent pulmonary embolism at 58 Monday while doing exercises as part of his recovery from back surgery last month.
His closed casket sat in front of the stage, surrounded by flowers with a statue next to it draped in a No. 60 maroon Dunbar jersey given to him by his players after last year's state championship.
Eaton wore that number as an All-Mid-Atlantic Athletic Conference offensive lineman at Morgan State in 1974.
Gov. Martin O'Malley and Lt. Governor Anthony Brown were among several hundred who packed the hall yesterday in an outpouring of affection for one of Baltimore's most popular and respected high school coaches.
Eaton had a career record of 77-30 over nine seasons at Dunbar and won state titles in 2004 and 2006, but he was more than a football coach.
"I think Ben Jr. is the epitome of his father, " Gilman assistant coach and former Baltimore Colt Joe Ehrmann said. "His father was a man of relationships who was committed to making a difference in the world. And Ben. Jr. is a wonderful young man who loves all people, and he's going to cast a big shadow that his father is going to be extremely proud of."
Eaton's penchant for developing strong relationships and giving bearhugs instead of handshakes was yesterday's theme. A couple of his favorite sayings, which were repeated yesterday, were: "Follow me because I follow Christ" and "It's all about relationships or it ain't about nothing."
The Dunbar and Gilman football teams were present, along with many of the players' parents. Players from the Northwood youth program as well as former Dunbar coaches, such as Bob Wade, Pete Pompey, Lynn Badham, Smiley Lee and Stanley Mitchell also were in attendance.
Dunbar interim coach Lawrence Smith, who is a Baltimore City police officer, and his staff attended along with former Poets stars Tommy Polley, Keith Booth and Ernie Graham. A number of players and coaches from around the state also were there.
Booth worked with Eaton at the Dunbar Athletic Academy and said he would always remember "Ben's making being involved with kids so important."
Said Smith: "He was a father, a father figure and everything everybody would ever want in a father, leader and mentor. I've got some big shoes to fill."