Liberty News

Former Flames Football coach featured on ESPN’s ‘College GameDay’

December 14, 2017 : Liberty University News Service

Before becoming Liberty University’s second head football coach in the mid-1970s, John Cartwright was the starting quarterback for the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.

On Saturday, Cartwright and his family attended the annual Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. It was the 50th anniversary of Cartwright’s last game with the Midshipmen, when he led them to a 19-14 upset victory over the Black Knights on Dec. 2, 1967, in Philadelphia. Cartwright and two of his former Midshipmen teammates surprised their coach, Lee Corso, a football analyst on ESPN’s “College GameDay,” in a live pregame broadcast.

Cartwright broke 13 of 14 school records held by his predecessor, Heisman Trophy winner and future NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach, and set seven more records of his own before he was commissioned in the Navy and served on a wartime tour of duty in Vietnam. After that commitment, rather than joining the NFL, he felt called to ministry. In 1973, he accepted an offer from Liberty Head Coach Lee “Rock” Royer (a former defensive coordinator at Navy) to work as offensive coordinator for the Flames’ first-year football program. At the same time, he pursued his Master of Divinity through the new Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (LBTS, now the Rawlings School of Divinity).

When Royer died in a plane crash in November 1973, Cartwright took the helm of the school’s football program. He guided the Flames to their first winning season in 1974 and finished his three-year career with a 14-13-1 record, including a 5-4-1 mark in Liberty’s first full season of varsity competition in 1976.

For the past 40 years, since graduating in LBTS’s first class in 1976, Cartwright has served as founding pastor of Calvary Independent Baptist Church outside of Philadelphia, near where he and his wife, Thelma, were raised. But they have kept close ties with Liberty. Three of the Cartwrights’ four children attended LU: John (’93, ’96, ’97), Tim (’96, ’98), and Donna (’91). John Cartwright Jr. serves in the Rawlings School of Divinity as an associate dean and associate professor of Christian Leadership & Church Ministries. His sister Jenny Wilen is a faculty support coordinator at Liberty.

“Most of us were young children when my dad coached here, but we all have pretty vivid memories of practices at Treasure Island and the games he coached (at Lynchburg’s City Stadium),” Cartwright Jr. said.

While Liberty has yet to schedule a football game with Navy, the Flames will visit Army in West Point, N.Y., on Sept. 8, 2018, in its first season of competing as an FBS independent program. The Flames will host the Black Knights at Williams Stadium, which is currently undergoing a major expansion, on Nov. 27, 2021, with future home and away dates set for Sept. 20, 2025, and Nov. 28, 2027.

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