Rockets annual playoff power under Hamilton

Rockets annual playoff power under Hamilton

TOLONO — Don't worry, Unity football fans. Scott Hamilton isn't planning his departure anytime soon.

Entering Year 25 in charge of the Rockets, Hamilton spent some time at his club's media day last week discussing all the rosters he's overseen at Unity — including five different groups that each finished runner-up in the state.

Among his thoughts: "Hopefully we find a team here in my next seven years that can get us over that final hurdle."

Is seven years a certainty for stepping aside, then?

"It's not a hard timeline," Hamilton admitted. "It's soft. It's still up in the air."

Considering all the success the Rockets have compiled under Hamilton's watch, that assessment ought to make Rockets rooters pretty happy.

Each of Unity's 24 campaigns under Hamilton have concluded in the postseason. The program's worst record in that span was 6-4 two times. The best was 13-1, also twice.

"We've talked about it a lot," Hamilton said of the playoffs streak. "Although I would love to have a state championship ... if we can run out a string of making it every year, that'd probably mean a lot more to me than having one state championship."

Hamilton arrived in Tolono after two years assisting Ric Johns at Hardin Calhoun. Both of those groups won a Class 1A state crown.

As a fresh-faced 25-year-old in 1994, Hamilton thinks back fondly upon his first Unity crew.

"I remember a group of seniors that bought into what a young guy was trying to sell," Hamilton said. "I think that Eric Temple made a sliding interception against St. Joe in Week 9 to secure us a playoff spot. I give a lot of credit to those guys for starting this thing."

Hamilton's latest run with the Rockets begins Friday at Chillicothe IVC. He'll miss a strong batch of upperclassmen from a 9-2 team last year, but past experience suggests to Hamilton that this won't be a major stumbling block.

"When we get to this year with all the replacements we have to do, that's why I feel so comfortable when you turn a program over to your seniors," Hamilton said. "It starts Day 1 with the seniors."

Hamilton doesn't necessarily have a favorite team from all those he's led at Unity. The 1994 bunch obviously is important to him, but two others also stick out in his mind.

"I still go back to our '99 group of seniors who had had a really, really poor freshman class," Hamilton said. "They were the first group to get us to the semis.

"Probably the one group that maybe stands out is, we had a big semifinal win here against Central A&M, our 2000 team. Danny Schwartz ripped a ball out on a kickoff and returned it for a touchdown ... to get us to our first state championship game."

Yes, Hamilton can offer plenty of positive memories from his lengthy tenure with the Rockets.

But Hamilton admitted his initial plan after leaving Hardin Calhoun was "to come here for a couple years and head back home." He said the last time he actually considered applying for another position was eight or nine years ago, when Edwardsville's top spot opened up.

And then, a moment of clarity.

"At that point, I thought about it. That's probably the point I realized this is where I wanted to finish my career out," Hamilton said. "Hopefully they can deal with me for a few more years here."

UNITY'S 2018 SCHEDULE

DATE OPPONENT TIME

Aug. 24 at Chillicothe IVC 7 p.m.

Aug. 31 at Pontiac 7 p.m.

Sept. 7 vs. Prairie Central 7 p.m.

Sept. 14 at St. Joseph-Ogden 7 p.m.

Sept. 22 *vs. Olympia 1 p.m.

Sept. 28 at Monticello 7 p.m.

Oct. 5 vs. St. Thomas More 7 p.m.

Oct. 12 at Rantoul 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 vs. Bloomington CC 7 p.m.

*At Memorial Stadium, Champaign

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