MEET AND GREET: Members of Carroll County’s football team line up to meet new head coach Hunter Cantwell (above) during Friday’s announcement in the school cafeteria. Cantwell (inset), a former University of Louisville and NFL quarterback, said that he was excited to take over the Carroll program and that he was “in it for the long haul.” (Staff photo by David Campbell)
MEET AND GREET: Members of Carroll County’s football team line up to meet new head coach Hunter Cantwell (above) during Friday’s announcement in the school cafeteria. Cantwell (inset), a former University of Louisville and NFL quarterback, said that he was excited to take over the Carroll program and that he was “in it for the long haul.” (Staff photo by David Campbell)
Hunter Cantwell has learned a lot during a long and successful football career that has taken him from college walk-on to the NFL and now he wants to pass that knowledge onto the next generation of players.

Cantwell was officially introduced as the new head football coach at Carroll County on Friday during a ceremony in front of players and fans at the school cafeteria. He replaces Lee Downey who resigned last week after two seasons on the job.

With his connections both in college and the pros, Cantwell easily could have had a coaching career at any level. But it is high school that he wants to coach and he couldn’t be happier to be kicking off his career at Carroll County.

“We’re in for the long haul and we’re going to build it the right way and not try to do anything that is just short-term success,” Cantwell said. “If we take our lumps early, so be it. But we’re going to build, build, build and hopefully develop a culture that can sustain great academics, men of character and obviously win on the field. It may not happen overnight, but that’s all right.”

Cantwell graduated from Paducah Tilghman High School on 2004 as the school’s career passing leader and walked-on at the University of Louisville where he was a four-year letter winner. Subbing for injured starter Brian Brohm, Cantwell was the most valuable player of the 2006 Gator Bowl and led the Cardinals to a 12-1 record in 2007 and a trip to the Orange Bowl.

He went undrafted after graduation in 2009 but signed with the Carolina Panthers were he spent the season on the practice squad and was promoted to the active roster late in the year. He spent the next two seasons on the practice squad of the Baltimore Ravens before deciding to get into coaching.

Cantwell joined Perry Thomas, his former high school coach, at Campbellsville University in 2012 as quarterbacks coach and spent the past four seasons in that capacity with the Tigers. It was while at Campbellsville that he developed a relationship with Carroll County Superintendent of Schools Bill Hogan who alerted him of the coaching opening.

Cantwell said that his relationship with Hogan played a big part in his decision to come to Carroll County. But he also fell in love with the town and the facilities when he visited.

“First, both my family and my wife’s family are from around Louisville and getting a chance to get back close to them was first and foremost for us,” Cantwell said of his decision to come to Carroll County. “Second, my previous relationship with Mr. Hogan. I really respect him and what he’s been able to do here. Three, small town football has always been appealing. This feels like a great fit and me and my family are excited to be here.”

“He had some great success at U of L and has great background playing at all different levels,” Hogan said in introducing the new coach. “He’s had great playing experience and great coaching experience and now he’s going to bring that here to Carroll County High School. It’s a dawn of a new era for us.”

Cantwell said that Carrollton’s small-town feel played a big part in the decision. He wanted to go to a school that had the full backing of the community and Carroll County fit that bill.

“I like the fact that it is the only school in the county and you’re not competing with anybody else. I come from a school that when we played, the town shut down. Everybody was there,” Cantwell said. “If you look at the Jefferson County schools, they are big schools with a thousand students but nobody comes to the games. That’s not what I wanted to be a part of.”

Although he played at the highest levels of his sport, nothing came easy for Cantwell. From walk-on to undrafted free agent, he has had to work for everything he has accomplished and he hopes to pass that work ethic onto his players.

“I think as a player I did a lot of things wrong. I wasn’t somebody that everything came natural and I just could do it,” Cantwell said. “I was constantly tweaking things. I walked on at U of L, I was undrafted in the NFL and so I was constantly evaluated and almost coaching myself and I think, as I look back at five years of collegiate coaching, that was a big asset.”

Cantwell said that he will begin putting together a staff immediately and plans on getting the team back to work after the first of the year. He will start working at Cartmell Elementary in two weeks and his wife, Emily, and two children, Charlotte and Gabriel, will join him shortly. And he is already planning on immersing himself in the Carroll County experience.

“This is where I want to be. I’ve always wanted to coach high school. If I wanted to coach college football I’d do it; I don’t think that would be an issue,” Cantwell said. “My family is a big part of that decision and high school football is the best of both worlds. You still get to impact young men, you get to stay around the game you love and you get to be a big part of your kids’ lives and continue to grow your marriage. I’m excited to be here.”