DC Touchdown Club celebrates the “Year of the Coach” at its 2014 Awards Dinner

A capacity crowd saluted four-time Pro Bowl linebacker London Fletcher and legendary local high school coaches Jim Fegan, Joe Gallagher and Willie Stewart at the DC Touchdown Club Awards Dinner on Thursday night at Carmine’s.

The program began with a Career Achievement Award for Fletcher, who passionately told the younger award winners to stay focused and work hard. Fletcher remembered showing up for one training camp during his early playing days and being issued jersey No. 66, normally a number given to linemen, not linebackers, before quickly making his mark and becoming one of the game’s all-time most dependable players.

The next award winner told a similar story. Maryland High School Player of the Year Ja’Whaun Bentley, a linebacker from DeMatha Catholic, could not help cracking a smile. Bentley, who was not interested in playing football when he was younger, eventually gave in after going to watch his younger brother’s practice. “I was given No. 66 too,” said Bentley, who has signed with Purdue. “I couldn’t believe it.”

Briar Woods record-setting quarterback Trace McSorley, a Penn State recruit, received the Virginia High School Player of the Year award. H.D. Woodson wide receiver and defensive back D’Andre Payne, who has already enrolled at Tennessee, joined the event via Skype and was all smiles as he was presented the D.C. High School Player of the Year award. Centreville’s Chris Haddock received the Washington Metro High School Coach of the Year award and Navy’s sensational quarterback Keenan Reynolds worked the crowd as he accepted the Washington Metro College Player of the Year award.

Then it was time for the stars of the show. Lifetime Achievement Award winners Jim Fegan, Joe Gallagher and Willie Stewart combined to coach high school football in the Washington area for 91 years, winning countless games, numerous championships and, most importantly, influencing the lives of countless teenagers.

Fegan was introduced by his former player and successor at Georgetown Prep, Dan Paro, who told of the way Fegan changed the culture at the North Bethesda school, commanding the respect of all.

Gallagher was introduced by Hall of Fame basketball coach Morgan Wootten, who recounted the lessons he learned after Gallagher hired him for his first high school coaching job as an assistant basketball and football coach at St. John’s.

Cato June, who played for Stewart at Anacostia and now is the coach at the Southeast Washington school, told of how Stewart was a father figure for his players. In 2012, when Anacostia named its football stadium after Stewart, June told of the discussion he had with Stewart’s son Troy regarding whether the stadium should be Stew Stadium (for Stewart’s nickname), Willie Stewart Stadium or some other combination. “I’m his son,” Troy Stewart said. “I’m his son, too,” June fired back.

With many of their former players in attendance, all three Lifetime Achievement Award winners regaled the crowd with stories from their coaching days, each tale seemingly better than the next.

To conclude the night, Jim Morhard, one of the survivors in the plane crash that killed Bill Phillips, made a special presentation on behalf of the Bill Phillips Memorial Fund. Morhard told the story of the plane crash and how he, Bill’s son Willy (who also was in attendance Thursday night) and two others survived the crash in the Alaska wilderness in dire circumstances. Morhard talked about serving others and one’s fighting spirit and determination before making a surprise presentation to SFC Jon Smith, who has had eight surgeries to repair a serious knee injury sustained in Iraq in 2008. Despite his injuries, Smith has remained in the army and now serves as a mentor, sounding board and advisor for wounded warrior care.

The DC Touchdown Club’s next event is the Bill Phillips Memorial Fund Golf Tournament on June 6 at Raspberry Falls Golf and Hunt Club in Leesburg, Va. For more information or to reserve a place in the tournament, please visit dctouchdownclub.com or contact Lauren Schweitzer at 202-776-2130 or lschweitzer@militarybowl.org.