Crouch had served as an assistant in Hamilton from 1993 to 2008, before becoming the head coach at Mount Healthy in 2009, and was a part of the Big Blue’s only two Greater Miami Conference championships in 1994 and 1997 and five straight winning seasons in that timeframe. In his stint at Mount Healthy, Crouch was 95-48 overall, guiding the Division III Owls to four undefeated conference championships and a total of seven conference titles in his 13 seasons there.
“I grew up here as a coach,” Crouch said. “I had only coached four or five years before I took a job at Hamilton. … I know the people and the kids we have in Hamilton, and it made it very attractive to me to come back and try to turn it around and make everyone proud.
“I think being at Mount Healthy helped my confidence, because I didn’t know how good of a coach I was before that,” he added. “It helped prove stuff I believe in as a coach is the right way. I’ve coached with some good ‘old-time coaches’ that taught me the ‘good old way’ and put my own twist on it a little bit, and I think that’s going to put us over the top.”
Crouch called it “a blessing” to be back at Hamilton with an opportunity to “try to make football in Hamilton important again.”
His first task was hiring a staff, then setting new standards to meet the culture Crouch wanted to instill in the program. To help with that, he brought all but one of his assistants from Mount Healthy – one didn’t want to leave his alma mater – and was pleased to keep J.D. Vonderheide and Mike Dole from former coach Nate Mahon’s staff.
“I’m coming in being myself,” Crouch said. “No job, no place will ever change me as far as the way I coach. We’ve developed a culture of what we believe in, how we do things, and kids are working hard and buying in. I think they would say this is the hardest they’ve ever worked. We changed the weight room culture, the practice culture and once we really get started, we’ll be changing the hitting culture.”
Crouch said the main thing was building more toughness.
“I don’t want to be negative, but it’s been surprising some of the stuff I’ve dealt with,” Crouch said. “We’re going to be known as a blue collar, hard-working, hitting program.”
Defensive line coach Joe Speziale and defensive coordinator Matt Hoover really helped get the weight training program in place, and Crouch said he was pleased with how the kids responded to what they were being asked to do.
Still, he thinks the players will be shocked by the first practice.
“We’re going to be physical on offense and defense,” Crouch said. “I’m not sure if they will be used to that physical level. If we get the kids to understand they’ve adapted multiple ways already putting the program in place. If they adapt like they did in the weight room then we’ll be just fine. The kids are great kids.”
Hamilton will run a 3-3 stack defense and use a spread offense that includes plenty of running plays, despite losing 1,000-yard rusher Kaleb Johnson to graduation. The Big Blue have an open competition at quarterback, Crouch said, and he’s looking at players like Semaj Aldridge, Donovan Smiley and Alyjah Thompson stepping up in the backfield behind leadership in the offensive linemen with returners Tylor Camden and Kaden Bennett.
Defensively, the Big Blue bring more experience with linemen Gabe and Trey Verdon returning, along with linebacker Lanny Ash and second-team All-GMC safety Jaylan Garrett. First team All-GMC pick and outside linebacker/wide receiver Breeon Ishmail transferred to Princeton.
Hamilton, which opens against Mahon’s new team at West Clermont on Aug. 19, was just 2-7 last year, but Crouch has greater expectations.
“We don’t think logically,” Crouch said. “Some people might say, ‘If they go .500 that would be great,’ but we don’t think that way. We’re going to go 10-0, that’s the way we think it. We’re not going to settle for anything average for Hamilton, and the kids are buying into that. They want to turn it around and make a name for themselves. So, I’m just happy with where we are.”