High School Football Week 1: Big Blue determined to build off playoff season

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 seeks first winning season since 2010

The Hamilton High School football team gained a sense of accomplishment last year. Now the Big Blue are hanging onto every opportunity to build off that.

Hamilton made the playoffs for the first time since 2010 last year – following a one-win 2018 campaign – and coach Nate Mahon said the excitement level around the program was noticeably different entering the offseason.

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After COVID-19 shut down voluntary workouts in March, the Big Blue have been working to regain that momentum since sports teams were given the clearance to resume meeting under limitations May 26. The constant threat of shutting down again has kept players “locked in,” according to Mahon, and Friday’s opener will be met with a sense of relief and joy.

Hamilton hosts Princeton at 7 p.m. today at Schwarm Stadium.

“We’ve just been hoping to get to the starting gate and get to play,” Mahon said. “You just never know, so we take it one day at a time. The kids have been working hard since we got word May 26 that we could go back. I’m proud of their ability to work hard even when there were so many storms around them. They stayed the course, and I feel good about this team being able to keep building something special.”

The Big Blue did enough to make the playoffs last year with a 5-5 record, even after losing the finale at Lakota East, but their run ended in the first round with a 37-13 defeat at the hands of Fairfield, which was in the midst of one of its best seasons in program history.

Hamilton now seeks to take the next step, eying the team’s first winning season since 2010 when the Big Blue went 7-4.

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Mahon believes this year’s squad has the potential to achieve that goal. The offense should be even more dynamic with running backs Kaleb Johnson and Keyshawn Stephens returning after combining for 1,500 yards in 2019, and quarterback Quincy Simms-Marshall continuing his development after a 1,225-yard passing performance.

Simms-Marshall will have weapons like Daryan Bowling, Miami commit Malik Verdon and Breon Ishmail down field.

“We will have a steady diet of Keyshawn and Kaleb running the ball, that’s a fact, but we’ll take more shots down the field with Daryan, Malik and Breon,” Mahon said, also noting the experienced coaches on his staff. “We are hoping it’s a big-shot offense because we have so many weapons. The playbook runs a little deeper for sure because we’re more comfortable in Year 2. If we limit turnovers, I feel we could have a pretty potent offense.”

More guys will be playing two ways in 2020, especially with the state trimming down travel squads, but that means Mahon expects an athletic defense. Some of the top contributors include defensive linemen Gabe Verdon and Karian Jones, linebackers Blake Hawkins and Jordan Jones and three-year starters Dillon Lee, Justin McCullah and James Turner in the secondary.

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Overall, it’s an experienced group, but Mahon said Princeton will be a good first test. The Vikings went 6-5 last year and seem to have reloaded to replace some of the talent they lost. They return running back Thomas Boyd, who rushed for 613 yards, and two of their top receivers with DeAngelo Foster and Rodney Harris.

Interesting rematch

Badin plays at Ross in another game of note involving two local teams.

The two teams met in the opener last year and Ross won 20-19 in overtime. Badin started 0-2 but made an impressive turnaround to nine of their next 10 games, including avenging the Week 1 loss to Ross in the opening round of the playoffs, 46-14. Badin beat Alter the next round before bowing out against Trotwood-Madison for a 9-4 finish.

Ross had gone 8-2 during the regular season to improve on a 5-5 finish in 2018.

Bolden’s return to Colerain with West

Lakota West travels to Colerain on Friday to mark coach Tom Bolden’s first game back at his former school. The two teams scrimmaged last year but did not play in the regular season.

Bolden led Colerain to a Division I state runner-up finish in 2018 before taking the job at West two weeks later, finishing off a 12-year stint with the Cardinals. Colerain last year claimed a record 20th consecutive GMC title and has won 83 straight conference games.

West is coming off its first winning season since 2015 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

FRIDAY’S GAMES

Badin at Ross

Fairfield at Mason

Lakota West at Colerain

Lakota East at Sycamore

Winton Woods at Edgewood

Monroe at Franklin

Princeton at Hamilton

Day. Carroll at Talawanda

Madison at Preble Shawnee

Carlisle at Dixie

West Clermont at Lebanon

Northmont at Springboro

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