HAMILTON — Nate Mahon recognizes that a coaching change in a program coming off a one-win season naturally gets categorized as a rebuilding project, but the new Hamilton High School football coach wouldn’t label his situation that way.
Mahon, who graduated from Hamilton in 2003, left the Little Miami program in December to take over his alma mater and is hoping to help the Big Blue back to relevance in the Greater Miami Conference.
Hamilton hasn’t experienced a winning season since going 7-4 in 2010 and was 1-9 last year under Chad Murphy, while Mahon led Little Miami to one of its most successful seasons with a 9-3 finish as a Division II regional semifinalist.
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“Things are new and change is difficult, but I don’t feel it’s a rebuild,” said Mahon, who was inducted into Hamilton’s Athletic Hall of Fame last year and owns a 40-25 coaching record with stints at Little Miami and Northwest. “They’ve got a lot of good things in place. There are some assistant coaches we’re going to retain that have done a nice job. We’ll meet them halfway and build on what they’ve done in the past. They’ve got some good players. It’s a change, but not a rebuild. I think we can accomplish some things together.”
Murphy had been lauded by other GMC coaches throughout this past season for the improvements he made at Hamilton, despite what his 14-46 record might have indicated over his six years as head coach. He resigned — at what he said was the school’s suggestion — in late October.
Big Blue, a young team in 2018, returns 14 of 22 starters, including two first-team all-GMC picks in junior linebacker Luke Mattia, who was second in the conference with 85 tackles, and sophomore running back Keyshawn Stephens, who was No. 2 in rushing with 1,247 yards.
“I see starters coming back and guys that are experienced and coaches that are experienced,” Mahon said. “Keyshawn Stephens is back. Kaleb Johnson started seven or eight games as a freshman. (Quarterback) Khaliyal Sowell is healthy (after missing seven games). We have a big offensive line and an all-conference linebacker coming back. I think we can continue the momentum as opposed to starting over.”
Mahon said the transition has gone well so far as far as players and staff being receptive to him, but “it’s going to take a lot of time” to get settled. He is finishing out the year as assistant principal at Little Miami, which has made life a little more complicated while basically serving two different bosses now, but Little Miami has always treated him well and continues to do so, he said.
His first tasks at Hamilton were to establish an offseason weight lifting program, which began Monday, and put together a staff, a process that he is still working on completing. About 90 kids showed up at his first meeting before Christmas and attendance has been good the first week of his offseason program, he said.
“They’ve welcomed me with open arms and everyone seems receptive of what we’re doing,” Mahon said.
As far as bulding the staff, Mahon has brought in four new coaches. Former Little Miami and Northwest offensive line coach Andy Stuckert will serve as a co-offensive coordinator along with former Talawanda head coach J.D. Vonderheide. Former Princeton and Monroe head coach Bill Leach also will be on staff, as will Hamilton teacher and former Miami University assistant Dan Siegle. Stuckert will coordinate the running game and Vonderheide the passing.
Mahon plans to continue doing interviews before rounding out the staff.
“I want to make sure we do it right,” Mahon said. “There’s no rush. We want to make sure we get the best coaches around and get the right fit for Hamilton.”
Mahon said the biggest improvements he hopes to make are in the weight room and on defense, where he hopes to play fast and aggressive football.
He believes those are two things that can make a difference as he tries to build on the past and bring back the support of the Hamilton community.
“Support has been really good,” Mahon said. “I’m excited to keep working. I know we’ve got a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of the season, but I can’t wait to lead them against West Clermont in Week 1. I’m thrilled to lead my alma mater. I think there are a lot of things we can change and make happen.”