Carroll County football head coach Hunter Cantwell. (Courier file photo)
Carroll County football head coach Hunter Cantwell. (Courier file photo)
Under head coach Thomas Hunter Cantwell, Carroll County football posted its first winning season in six years, won a playoff game for the first time since 2013 and was building the foundation for perhaps even greater success in the future.

However, that rebuild must now fall under the watch of new leadership. Cantwell has resigned his position at Carroll County and been named the new head coach at Christian Academy of Louisville on Tuesday.

According to Carroll County Athletic Director Paul Stone, Cantwell informed the school of his resignation on Friday and held a meeting with his players and parents Monday to tell them he was leaving the program to take another position and thanked them for their support and efforts.

“The kids are pretty upset but that’s just all part of it,” Stone said. “They really liked Coach Cantwell and he’s going to be hard to replace.

“When we hired him he said he wanted to be a high school coach because that’s where he thought he could have the biggest impact and he did a great job at our school. Under his leadership our kids were better on the field, better citizens in our community and better in the classroom,” Stone added.

Cantwell, who grew up in Paducah, Kentucky, where he was a standout player for Tilghman High School, is a former quarterback at the University of Louisville, the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and Baltimore Ravens and the Owensboro Rage of the Continental Indoor Football League. He had coached quarterbacks and special teams at Campbellsville University before accepting the head job at Carroll County prior to the 2016 season.

Cantwell’s first two seasons at Carroll resulted in 4-7 records and first rounds playoff losses but last year the Panthers were 7-5 — their first winning season since 2012 — and earned a home playoff game for the first time since 2014, posted their first playoff win since 2013 and first home playoff win since 2002.

“I’m very excited the direction that CCHS football is headed. A strong middle school feeder program, excellent off-season participation, great assistant coaches in the community, and a very talented team coming back gives me assurance that this program will continue to have success for years to come!” Cantwell wrote in a post to the community both on Facebook and Twitter.

“Lastly to my players, I hope you know more than anything else what made it fun was you guys! You guys were an inspiration to me more than I ever was to you. Each weight session, practice, bus ride, and game was a blast because of your all’s spirit. The memories, the victories, the lows, the highs, and the laughs I will cherish for years to come.”

“I hate it. I do,” Stone said of Cantwell’s departure. “I was hoping he would stay a long time. Coach Cantwell has done a great job with our program but I realize he had to make the decision that was best for his family.”

Stone noted that Christian Academy of Louisville is a program that’s “had a lot of success” over the past few years and offers Cantwell an opportunity to return to the city where he played college football and take over a program that’s already built for success.

The position opened up last month when head coach Stefan LeFors, another a former quarterback at Louisville, the Carolina Panthers and the Canadian Football League, resigned to return to his hometown Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he will coach Parkview Baptist High School there.

Christian Academy of Louisville was 87-20 in eight seasons under LeFors and the Centurions won Class 2A state championships in both 2016 and 2018. The program will move up to Class 3A for the 2019 season and play in District Four with DeSales, Henry County, Mercer County and Western Hills.

“Our goal this year will be to once again win the district championship, regional championship and become state champions in 3A,” Cantwell said at his introduction on Tuesday.

“I think the sport of football is a great vessel to teach character building and spiritual lessons that will carry over into life,” Cantwell added. “CAL has been doing this not only in the classroom but also in athletics since its inception. That is what drew me to this exciting opportunity to be a part of the work the Lord is already doing through CAL.”

“We are excited that Hunter will be leading our football program,” CAL athletics director Brad Morgan said. “His knowledge and experience, along with his love for Christ and drive to mentor young men, make him a great fit. I am confident that his vision of capitalizing on our strengths at CAL will continue the great success of our football program.”

And since the program returns the majority of its starters from 2018 when the Centurions were 15-0, CAL does indeed represent a coaching destination where Cantwell can pursue state championships right from the start.

It’s also the kind of program Stone thinks Cantwell was building at Carroll County and the kind of program he wants the school’s next coach to continue to develop.

“We’ve got a chance to be pretty good next year — maybe even better — and we still can if we get the right person in here,” Stone said of his pending coaching search. “We’ll advertise the position and get the best coach we can get and move forward.”

Stone said finding a knowledgeable, relatable leader like Cantwell may not be easy but it’s exactly what Carroll County must do in order to continue the upward momentum the program has seen during Cantwell’s tenure.

“The fact that he came here for three years shows that we’re a pretty good place to coach,” Stone said. “But we’ve always been a good place. Our facilities and situation speak for themselves. Our community loves football. We’ve invested in our field and our weight room facilities and set our kids up for success.”

The head football position is not the only post Stone is looking to fill. Girls varsity basketball head coach Ron Henderson resigned suddenly last month and Carroll County is also looking to fill that position. Stone, the former girls head coach at Carroll County himself, said he’s looking for the same type of candidate for that job and he hopes to fill it sooner than the football since it’s been vacant longer.

Both positions — football and girls basketball — pay an $8,000 annual stipend in addition to whatever pay the candidate will earn as a teacher. Cantwell’s departure opens up a position in physical education.

Stone invited anyone interested in either position to submit an application and resume. He said both positions are advertised on the KHSAA website.