In shape and on task

The Baltimore Sun

In previous years, when you asked anyone around the City football team to pick out the team jokester, most pointed at James Carmon, as his easygoing manner and ability to deliver the quick needle helped keep things light in the huddle.

But since he has become a senior, Carmon has grown more serious.

Carmon, 6 feet 7 and 330 pounds, made it known over the summer that he was going to approach this year with a new focus, mainly in pursuit of a state championship. He got in better condition. And he continues to manage his asthma.

"He told us [the coaching staff] that he was going to come back in good shape," City coach George Petrides said. "And when Aug. 15 [the first day of practice] came, he was in really good condition. He had lost some weight, and he was ready."

Carmon, an All-Metro first-team defensive tackle last year, has been asthmatic since birth. Though he has a comparatively mild form of the disorder, where the airways are persistently inflamed and sensitive to irritants, it's severe enough that he occasionally has to take plays off to use his inhaler.

He is hardly alone. A survey published in the September issue of the Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise reported that more than a third of college athletes assessed for breathing problems had test results that suggested they had exercise-induced asthma, even among athletes who had no previous history of the condition.

Athletes who have competed and excelled while asthmatic include Jackie Joyner-Kersee, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the heptathlon; Greg Louganis, who won four Olympic gold medals in diving; gold-medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken; and former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Jerome Bettis.

Carmon, who transferred to City from Overlea before last season, said he is usually most affected at the beginning of the season, when it is still warm and humid, and late in the season, when it gets cold. To date, Carmon said, he has been incident-free, save for last year's game against Edmondson, during which, oddly enough, he had two sacks.

"I was going all-out that game, so I felt myself wheezing a little bit," said Carmon, who is planning to sign with Tennessee. "I kept on going, but I knew I had to come out, because my chest was getting really tight."

Carmon's mother, Angela, said she not only carries an extra inhaler for her son, but also has given one to the City coaching staff to use in emergencies or when he has forgotten his. She said she has never come close to forbidding her son to play because he does so well in managing his asthma.

"I always pray and hope that he'll be all right playing," Angela Carmon said. "But that's what he loves to do. I don't want to stop him doing something that he loves to do. If it came down to him playing or his life, then I would have to choose. But the doctor says he's OK."

The Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise survey of 107 Ohio State varsity athletes showed that 42 of them, or 39 percent, tested positive for exercise-induced asthma, and 36 of the 42 had no history of asthma.

James F. Donohue, chief of the division of pulmonary medicine at the University of North Carolina and a leading expert on asthma and breathing ailments, said a diagnosis of asthma does not have to end an athlete's career.

"It [asthma] can affect any athlete who participates in sports," Donohue said. "But there should be no reason why that athlete can't participate if they control their disease with avoidance and take the proper medicine."

Bettis said he learned he was asthmatic when he was in high school. He said he was largely problem-free, save for a September 1997 incident in Jacksonville, when he had to be carried off the field on a stretcher because he hadn't been taking his medication.

Bettis, who retired after the 2005 NFL season with more than 13,000 yards rushing, said from that point forward he took better care of his condition and made his coaches aware of how he was feeling.

"You try to educate the coaches and players," said Bettis, an NBC football analyst. "It's like, 'Hey, it's not that I can't do what you do. I just can't do it as long as you can.' If you can manage it, then you can play sports. But when people don't manage, then you see the problems we've seen."

Carmon said he has learned to manage his asthma by following the example of his older brother, Michael Johnson, who was forced to give up sports because of his more severe asthma.

"I just try to keep it out of my mind, to maintain," said Carmon, who also plays center for City's basketball team. "I think about my brother and how he wants me to go far in life and not worry about my asthma. If something happens to me [it's OK] as long as I know I'm doing something I want to do. So I just keep on moving until I can't go, and that's when I take my plays off."

For Carmon, who plays right tackle on offense and left defensive tackle, where he had 14 sacks last year, the urgency for the season comes with a desire to lead the Knights (2-1) to their first Class 2A state championship after two straight Division I city titles.

What Carmon, the only returning defensive starter, needs is for his young teammates to grasp the importance of getting that state championship, especially after coming so close last year.

The Knights, who meet No. 4 Dunbar (3-0) on Friday night at Johns Hopkins, dropped a 7-6 heartbreaker to Franklin in the 3A North regional final last year, and while Carmon helped keep All-Metro runner Scott Noble to minus 14 yards in the first half, City couldn't close the deal.

"That's the thing that's pushing me," Carmon said. "I don't know if it's getting to these young guys, but I'm a two-way starter all four years. Last year really killed me because we lost to Franklin. That wasn't supposed to happen. That's really pushed me to the point where I've got to get one. That's what I'm going for."

And that's no laughing matter.

milton.kent@baltsun.com

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