Hamilton football: After missing two games with COVID-19 quarantines, ‘like starting over’ for Big Blue

Hamilton’s Kaleb Johnson carries the ball during their football game against Sycamore Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 at Virgil Schwarm Stadium at Hamilton High School in Hamilton. Hamilton won 14-7. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Hamilton’s Kaleb Johnson carries the ball during their football game against Sycamore Friday, Oct. 25, 2019 at Virgil Schwarm Stadium at Hamilton High School in Hamilton. Hamilton won 14-7. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Hamilton, which had its last two games canceled due to COVID-19 issues, visits Lakota East on Friday night

Hamilton High School football coach Nate Mahon feels like his team is starting over again.

After having its last two games canceled because of quarantines following a COVID-19 positive test in the program, the Big Blue are scheduled to be back in action Friday in a Greater Miami Conference matchup at Lakota East (2-1, 1-0 GMC).

Hamilton (1-0, 0-0 GMC) opened the season with a 43-28 win over West Clermont on Aug. 20 before its season was paused when 43 members of the team were forced to quarantine.

“It’s like starting over basically,” Hamilton coach Nate Mahon said. “We’re just doing the best we can to practice and play games. There’s no manual on how to handle COVID and contact tracing.”

The Big Blue managed to play 10 games in a unique 2020 campaign that saw the playoffs begin Oct. 9 in a normal Week 7 just to make sure a postseason could happen. After losing in the first round against Moeller, Hamilton picked up three games to close the year, as allowed by the Ohio High School Athletic Association so teams could have a more complete season.

Early this summer, it looked like the pandemic was slowing and things would be more normal this season, but Hamilton was more impacted now than a year ago.

“There’s still a lot of uncertainty,” Mahon said. “Kids appreciate being out there, and they understand the opportunity to play can be taken from you tomorrow. They know that and understand that. You just have to roll with the punches. Just getting a chance to play, that’s exciting.”

Because it’s been two weeks with two-thirds of the team in quarantine for 10 days, Hamilton still has much to learn about itself.

Mahon said there were some good things he saw in the opener against West Clermont, but also some things that needed improved upon. Now, it’s three weeks after the fact trying to address those things again.

According to Mahon, everyone from the initial quarantine is back, but a couple issues have popped up since then. Still, most of the roster should be available Friday.

“We’re still trying to figure out who we are,” Mahon said. “We competed well in two scrimmages, did well enough to win our opener and then two-thirds of the team was in quarantine for 10 days. There is a lot we missed during that time, but we have to figure it out by Friday and play a clean game. I’m excited to see what we bring Friday night.”

East is coming off two straight wins after an opening loss to Moeller. The Thunderhawks shut out Milford in Week 2 and beat Middletown, 49-7, in the GMC opener last week. They are led offensively by running back Eric Davis and quarterback T.J. Kathman, who have combined for 492 yards rushing and seven touchdowns through three games.

The two teams did not meet in 2020, but the Hawks have won the last nine matchups with Hamilton, including the 2019 finale. Hamilton’s last win in the series came in 2008.

“They are obviously a run heavy team that’s good at what they do,” Mahon said. “We expect them to run the ball like they have in the past, they are going to be pretty consistent giving to their dive back and the quarterback keeping it. We just have to be disciplined in all phases, especially to stop their triple option. Coach (Rick) Haynes has been running that a while so it’s going to be our job to be disciplined enough to stop it.”

Hamilton’s defense lost several key players from 2020 but still has some solid pieces. Mahon noted cornerback Jaylan Garrett as one player that stood out in Week 1, causing two turnovers.

Mahon said Hamilton has the ability to be explosive on offense and put up points as well. West Clermont capitalized on some turnovers early, but once the Big Blue cleaned up issues taking care of the football, they were hard to stop. Kaleb Johnson returns as one of the top running backs in the league, producing 239 yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries in the opener, but Mahon said quarterback Kerry Ware, as a first-year starter, is showing he could be someone the team can rely on to make plays as well.

East’s defense has been solid the past two weeks and traditionally has been a tough, physical team.

“If we take turnovers away and hold onto the ball and be smart, we can score points,” Mahon said. “Then it comes down to being sound in the other phases. I’m looking forward to seeing if we can do those things and get this thing going again.”