Chad Murphy is hoping a natural progression of success will find Hamilton High School’s football team this year.
Big Blue haven’t finished above .500 at the varsity level since 2010 and went 3-7 last season, but the younger levels have been winning for a while.
“We’ve had three classes in a row that have won,” said Murphy, starting his sixth season at the helm. “Our going-to-be seniors were 7-3 as freshmen, our going-to-be juniors were 7-3 as freshmen, and our going-to-be sophomores were 9-1 as freshmen.
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“I’d like to think a head coach makes all the difference, but you can’t beat a group of kids that have won on the way up.”
Murphy likes the offensive potential HHS possesses, and he’s brought in former Oak Hills head coach Dan Scholz to run the defense. The previous D-coordinator, Matt Hoover, is now coaching at Mount Healthy.
Quarterback Khaliyal Sowell ran for 644 yards and threw for 610 last season, and he returns for his junior campaign armed with a college offer from Indiana.
“It’s tough for any sophomore to step in and manage an offense,” Murphy said. “I’ve coached Tyler Osterman at Monroe and Cory Roberson at Northwest and Steve Cunningham here, and Khaliyal’s mechanics and passing are as good as any of those guys.”
Senior DaQuan Maffett and junior Kevon Burnett are among the top receivers, with junior Michael Smith and sophomores Daryan Bowling and Quincy Simms-Marshall also in the mix.
Murphy described Maffett as “electric” in the slot and said senior Daveon Williams (6-3, 220), a former split end, is looking good as a tight end/wing.
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Keyshawn Stephens (6-0, 190) is expected to be the workhorse in the backfield, and Murphy said he’s among the best area runners in the Class of 2021.
Returning on the offensive line are senior Zach Scrimizzi (6-0, 280) and junior Jacob Abney (5-10, 220). Scrimizzi is the center, while Abney can play all three line positions.
Senior guard Francisco Perez (6-0, 255) is back after missing last season with an injury. Murphy said he would’ve been a 2017 starter if he’d been healthy.
Juniors Jayden Evans (6-3, 245) and Ryan Rumpke (6-3, 270) are battling for spots on the line, as is sophomore Dustin Brock (6-3, 300).
“It’s funny because going into this offseason, we had the biggest holes to fill on the offensive line, but I’m also the most optimistic about this offensive line,” Murphy said. “With Khaliyal and Keyshawn in the backfield and an above-average offensive line at this point, I feel really good about the offense.”
Big Blue led the GMC in rushing yards per conference game (256) last year, yet ranked ninth in GMC contests through the air (70.5).
“We’re still going to run the ball a lot, but we’re going to put an emphasis on throwing it a little bit more this year,” Murphy said.
Defensively, Hamilton is making a schematic change, moving from a four-man front to the 50.
“Seventy percent of our schedule runs the 50,” Murphy said. “As an offensive guy, I would prefer to go against a four-man front. With the old-school 50, you only need three down linemen. It’s a lot of slanting and angling, so you can use smaller, quicker guys as opposed to the big bruisers that are hard to find.”
Senior tackle Ryan Ponder (6-3, 250) leads the defensive returnees, along with senior cornerback Leondre Pope.
Junior Luke Mattia (6-3, 220) was a tight end/wing on offense last year, but has moved to inside linebacker this year. Senior Elijah Spradling (5-11, 225) is another backer who has some experience.
Murphy said junior Isaiah Harrison looks to be a starting safety.
Players in the defensive mix include junior Nathan Pratt (6-2, 240) and senior David Rucker (6-2, 230) on the line, sophomore Jordan Jones (5-9, 195), senior Maleek Kaiser (6-1, 185) and sophomore Jason Douglas (5-7, 175) at outside linebacker, and senior Arthur Walton, junior Jayden Marshall, sophomore Justin McCullah and sophomore Dillon Lee in the secondary.
Senior Zach Welch is a returning place-kicker. Spradling and McCullah are vying to be the punter.
“We feel like we’re as talented as we’ve been since I’ve been here,” Murphy said. “We were 5-5 two years ago and really thought we were over the hump this past year, but things happen. We can come up with whatever excuses we want to come up with, but we were negative-five in turnover margin, and turnover margin is the reason you lose.”
HAMILTON BIG BLUE
Coach: Chad Murphy, sixth season (13-37 at Hamilton, 17-14 in three years at Northwest)
OHSAA designation: Division I, Region 4
Playoff history: 0-4 in 4 appearances (1994, 1997, 2001, 2010)
2017 record: 3-7 overall, 3-5 in the Greater Miami Conference (seventh)
Schedule: Aug. 24 — West Clermont, 7 p.m.; Aug. 31 — at Anderson, 7 p.m.; Sept. 7 — Fairfield, 7 p.m.; Sept. 14 — at Oak Hills, 7 p.m.; Sept. 21 — Mason, 7 p.m.; Sept. 28 — at Colerain, 7 p.m.; Oct. 5 — Middletown, 7 p.m.; Oct. 12 — at Sycamore, 7 p.m.; Oct. 19 — Lakota East, 7 p.m.; Oct. 26 — at Princeton, 7 p.m.