Big Blue football reboot: “There’s no substitute for winning”

The Hamilton football program took a giant leap in the right direction at rival Fairfield in a Week 4 Greater Miami Conference matchup.

It was a stinging 34-27 setback for the Big Blue. That’s how new Hamilton coach Nate Mahon and senior linebacker Luke Mattia took the loss. Hamilton, winners of just four combined games the last two seasons, expected to win the game. That’s somewhat of a victory compared to recent seasons.

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“We’re taking it all in as a program, freshmen through varsity,” said Mattia, an outstanding 6-foot-4, 220-pound linebacker who has overcome two severe offseason injuries to lead the defense. “We’re not there yet, but we’re still heading in the right direction.”

Hamilton sank to 1-9 last season, although that lone win was a 15-14 shading of rival Middletown. That would be the last season as head coach for Chad Murphy.

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Instead, Hamilton turned to Mahon, who had worked wonders at Little Miami, leading the Panthers (9-3) to their most successful season in program history last fall and into the Division II regional semifinals. Taking over at Hamilton was personal to Mahon, a three-sport standout and 2003 Hamilton graduate.

An encouraging 2-0 start has leveled off following losses to Lakota West (3-1) and Fairfield (4-0). Both those GMC teams are in D-I, Region 4 playoff contention. Fairfield is No. 2 in the debut of the Ohio High School Athletic Association computer ratings that were released on Tuesday and No. 7 in this week’s Associated Press D-I state poll.

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“It’s a new deal for everybody at the school,” Mahon said. “We have a lot of support from the school and school district. They want us to be competitive and put a good product out there. So far, I’m proud of what we’re doing. We’ve got the kids to do it. Energy and effort will do it, especially in high school sports. We’ve got the kids and we’re really working very hard.”

Mattia seemed destined to be a sought-after recruit for the Big Blue. Physical and speedy, he suffered a major setback when his nasal cavity was crushed during a cone drill at a University of Cincinnati football camp last spring. Microlaryngoscopy and bronchoscopy (MLB) surgery followed.

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He wasn’t cleared to play until Wednesday of Week 1 after popping a hamstring in another summer camp at Bowling Green. Nothing, it seems, can stop him now. He leads the team with 39 total tackles after going for nine solo stops and five assists against Fairfield.

Turning around Hamilton football is personal to Mattia, too.

“We take a lot of pride in the word Hamilton and the city,” he said. “Just playing for our city and the fans and coaches and our brothers around us, our players.”

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Hamilton has a good shot at sweeping the next two GMC games against visiting and winless Oak Hills (0-4) in a Week 5 game on Friday and at struggling Mason (1-3) in Week 6. The Big Blue rebuild has started and is impressive, even in losses.

“There’s no substitute for winning,” assured Mahon. “We’ve got to keep working to get over the hump. We’re giving everything we’ve got from the players to the coaches to put into this. We think we can change it and make a difference.”

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