The Eastern Cincinnati Conference will represent the first two steps of the 2018 season for Hamilton High School’s football team.
Big Blue will open the year at home against West Clermont on Friday night, then travel to Anderson next weekend. And both of those ECC opponents were in the playoffs in 2017.
“You can’t get any further between two ends of the spectrum than what we’ll have to defend in Week 1 and then Week 2,” said sixth-year HHS coach Chad Murphy, with West Clermont preferring to keep the ball on the ground in the Wing-T and Anderson throwing it around in a pass-happy scheme.
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Murphy said Hamilton has the ability and mind-set to achieve its first winning season since 2010.
“Not a doubt, not a doubt,” he said. “We’ve got good continuity and good chemistry right now. It’s a good group of kids that really seem to care about one another, and we’ve got a little bit of talent.”
That talent is young in some spots, especially the offensive backfield. But Murphy believes junior quarterback Khaliyal Sowell, sophomore running back Keyshawn Stephens and freshman running back Kaleb Johnson will make plenty of noise in 2018.
“We’ve got more big-play potential than we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Murphy said. “I think our backfield is as dynamic as it’s been since I’ve been here.”
West Clermont is more of a grind-it-out team and showed that it could win last year during its inaugural season.
The Wolves were created by the merger of Glen Este and Amelia and went 7-4, losing to Mason 26-0 in the first round of the Division I playoffs.
How good will West Clermont be this year? Coach Nick Ayers admitted he doesn’t have a good handle on that yet.
“By the looks of it, we’d be a veteran team because we have 36 seniors, but a lot of them don’t have very much experience,” Ayers said. “There’s a lot of new faces in certain spots.”
He likes his 4-2-5 defense, particularly the senior trio of tackle Max Beckman, end Joe Wahl and linebacker Matt Lewis.
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“I think we’ll be pretty good defensively,” Ayers said. “Offensively, we have some growing to do. That’s the nature of this offense. You always want to play a Wing-T team early in the year.”
West Clermont does return three of its top four runners in seniors Ryan Cann (134 carries, 664 yards, four TDs), Jacob Kilgore (105 carries, 326 yards, 10 TDs) and Chayce Gambrell (82 carries, 294 yards, two TDs).
Senior tackle Sam Weaver (6-5, 275) has offers from Akron and Eastern Kentucky, and he joins senior center Nick Miller as a returning starter on the offensive line. Senior quarterback Hunter Eads was mostly a wide receiver last season, though he did see some action at QB.
“I’ve always been impressed with the Wing-T,” Murphy said. “It’s a tough offense to defend. They wear you down. They keep the ball out of your hands.”
Senior defensive back Austin Price was a return specialist last year for the Wolves, who shared the ECC title with Anderson and Milford. Price averaged 26.8 yards on kickoffs and 13.9 yards on punts.
“I think we got bigger and stronger in the offseason, but we’re not as big as the (Greater Miami Conference) teams. They just make ’em bigger at other places,” Ayers said. “I would say we’re just going to be a tough team.
“Hamilton’s going to be a strong, physical and fast team, and they’re going to outmatch us on those three avenues. Hopefully we can just hunker down and keep it close at the end.
“We’re coming off a good first season. We knew we had some good kids, but we were also fortunate and had some things go our way. We have to make our own luck this year.”
HHS posted a scrimmage win over Lakota West last weekend, and Murphy said it was a strong defensive effort by his team. Junior inside linebacker Luke Mattia has impressed his coach in the preseason.
What: West Clermont (7-4 in 2017) at Hamilton (3-7 in 2017), 7 p.m.
Where: Virgil Schwarm Stadium, 1165 Eaton Ave., Hamilton
Series: First meeting