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.