Aug 29, 2008 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Back in 2007, the Hamilton football team essentially started over, with a young roster and a first-year head coach in Joe LaPage.
Inevitably, the Emerald Knights struggled in this setting, going 2-7. In fact, by the end of the regular season, a combination of injuries and low participation had Hamilton down to just 16 players, nearly forcing a forfeit.
But at the very end of the fall, good things started to happen — which has carried over into the lead-up to this season.
First, Hamilton beat Beaver River 46-7 in crossover play to close out the ’07 campaign, which gave the players a good feeling going into the off-season.
Then came the healing of Adam Berryhill and Jeremiah Wallace, two key players that missed all of last season due to injuries — Berryhill an Achilles tear, Wallace a torn ACL. As an added bonus, Hamilton picked up Nick Barker, a transfer from Sherburne-Earlville.
Combine all this with the maturity of Hamilton’s young corps and plenty of conditioning work in the weight room and elsewhere, and the Emerald Knights have a very different mindset going into 2008.
“If we put the right guys in the right spots, we’re going to have a good year,” said LaPage.
For one thing, LaPage has more guys to work with — 29 on the varsity roster, nearly double what Hamilton had at its low point late in ’07. And since the players are familiar with each other and with LaPage’s coaching style, the growth should be substantial.
At quarterback, the Emerald Knights have a choice to make. Derrick Cenicola, the team’s leading receiver a year ago, is battling Coley Graham. Regardless of who starts under center, said LaPage, both Cenicola and Graham will be on the field, contributing in some way.
Hamilton could have a devastating ground game. Adam Jackowski, now a junior, nearly ran for 1,000 yards a sophomore, often working behind fullback Jordan Doroshenko. Both are back, and Doroshenko, as a senior and team captain, will take a lot of pressure off Jackowski with both his blocking and ability to run.
Berryhill’s return gives Hamilton a decent trio of receiving targets for Cenicola or Graham to throw to. Jimmy Smith returns at wide receiver after starting as a sophomore, and Brad Elliott is back to provide a big boost at tight end.
On the offensive line, center Kevin King and left tackle Josh Haswell have reasonable size (both are at 220 pounds) and provide the experience. At right tackle, Andy Roberts is new and, at 250 pounds, could overpower opposing pass rushers. Buck Penny is new to football and is getting thrown into the guard spot, joining Billy Chapman as they flank King.
LaPage said he will use a 4-4 or 5-3 defensive alignment, depending on the situation. Wallace, before his torn ACL, had led Hamilton in sacks and tackles for losses as a sophomore in 2006, so his impact on the rest of the line should be instant. King, Roberts and Penny will all share tackle duties with Wallace as Elliott and John Shell line up at end.
As for Barker, he will move right into Hamilton’s linebacker corps to start and will also back up Elliott at tight end. Doroshenko is the anchor on the strong side as Chapman plays on the weak side.
Smith, when he isn’t playing at strong safety, will also see time at linebacker. Otherwise, he will flank Cenicola at free safety, with Berryhill, Graham and sophomore Cameron Fisher all rotating at cornerback.
In the Class D realignment, the Central division where Hamilton operated dissolved, and now 16 teams play in two divisions, meaning a full slate of seven league games for the Emerald Knights to navigate through
Hamilton, in D West, faces a brutal opening month. It opens Friday night at Watertown IHC (who returns most of its starting lineup), goes to rival Morrisville-Eaton next week, then hosts Weedsport Sept. 19 before confronting two-time defending sectional champion Onondaga on Sept. 26.
By the time it gets to October, LaPage and his Hamilton players will know, for sure, if all its growth will translate to wins on the field.
“We’re going in with confidence,” said LaPage. “But everyone still looks at us as the underdog. We’ll take that.”