Aaron McCown, a popular youth football coach with a criminal past, pleaded guilty yesterday in federal court to using a loaded pistol to intimidate a referee at a Pop Warner game in September in Montgomery County.
McCown, 31, of Baltimore, who won a prestigious community service award from the Johns Hopkins University five years ago, could receive a maximum prison sentence of 10 years after signing a plea agreement with the Maryland U.S. attorney's office.
He could end up with a shorter term than that, depending on how his case and background are evaluated by authorities before sentencing May 12, said officials involved in his case.
Many who know him consider McCown a puzzle: a man involved in a decade's worth of crime - including heroin dealing and robbery - who returned each fall to coach the Old Town Gators, a Pop Warner football team in East Baltimore.
"He has deep regret that he failed the expectations and high standards that he set in working with kids and trying to be a role model," federal public defender John Chamble, his attorney, said yesterday. "They had to see his fall, and he hopes they'll learn from his poor judgment."
McCown is being held at the Charles County Detention Center.
Sheila Word, McCown's mother, said yesterday that many of his former players believe he is innocent.
McCown was an assistant coach on one of six Gators teams - the youngest is for 5- to 7-year-olds, the oldest for kids up to 15 - that played the White Oak Warriors in Montgomery County on Sept. 22. A referee ended game early after the team's fans and coaches complained about the officiating.
A police report said an enraged McCown told a referee, "I have something for your [expletive]" before running to a pickup truck to grab a bag containing a gun. According to the plea agreement, McCown "walked back onto the field toward the referee while holding the bag containing the weapon." No shots were fired.
He was originally accused of possessing a firearm as a convicted felon, a charge that could have sent him to prison for 20 years or more because of his criminal record, which includes convictions for distributing drugs in 2006 and robbery and assault in 1996.
He pleaded guilty yesterday to a charge of knowingly receiving an explosive - the .45-caliber pistol that authorities said contained four rounds of ammunition.
McCown appeared in U.S. District Court in Greenbelt wearing a T-shirt and jeans and acknowledged his plea but said little else, according to Chamble.
In January 2003, McCown received a community service award. Hopkins officials said they did not know about his background at the time.
McCown said in a November interview that he wants to return to coaching - a desire his attorney said he maintains today.
Last year, the Gators sent a letter to the league pledging that McCown "will no longer be affiliated with Old Town Football." The team was fined $1,000 by its league.
Anthony Graves, a Gators coach, said yesterday: "I would let him [McCown] come back with me and coach. He is a friend of mine."