Kroner's football tour '14: Unity
TOLONO — Fourteen seniors are gone from last year’s 8-3 football team.
Five starters are back on offense and four on defense.
Not all is doom and gloom within the Unity program.
Scott Hamilton is working with the largest squad he has had in his 21-year tenure at the school (88), as well as the biggest freshman class (35).
Finding replacements will be easier with those kinds of numbers.
The interest starts before the athletes reach high school.
“The JFL (Junior Football League) has crazy numbers,” Hamilton said. “The seventh- and eighth-grade (teams) are in the 60s. There’s a great coaching staff that works well with the kids, and the kids get an opportunity to play.”
Hamilton’s high school team is seeking a 21st consecutive playoff berth.
Captains Austin Bonnell, Colton Reed and Taylor White will spearhead the effort.
Reed will be a third-year starter at linebacker and will add tailback duties. White was the backup quarterback last year and will take over the position full time. Bonnell is an offensive line anchor at center who is also a candidate on the defensive front, though Hamilton prefers to have linemen playing only one way.
“They have a lot of experience, and they will do good things,” Hamilton said.
He has lofty expectations for first-year place-kicker Trevor Giannetti, a senior who plays on the soccer team.
“When I scout teams, the first thing I look for is how far does the kicker get it,” Hamilton said. “His kickoffs have been from inside the 5 to 5 yards deep. He has 50-plus (yards) range on field goals. We’re excited to have someone who can kick like that. It’s a huge advantage on our special teams games.”
Seniors Chris Branson (safety) and Elijah Miller (linebacker) have made “major strides,” Hamilton said. “They were both committed to the weight room and conditioning, and are a lot bigger and stronger.”
Hamilton said senior receiver Hiley Freeman “is like a new kid to the program” after recovering from a broken collarbone that sidelined him the final two-thirds of the 2013 season.
“One of our keys is to focus on depth and get guys to play,” Hamilton said. “We’ll have some tough battles.”
One of the most intense is for spots on the defensive front. Besides Bonnell, other candidates are Zach Gadbury, Doug Hughes, Matt Moore, Cole Swearingen and Kyle Quimby.
The Rockets open the season Aug. 29 at Decatur St. Teresa.
Coach: Scott Hamilton, 21st year
2013 record: 8-3
2014 roster size: 88
Home opener: Sept. 5, vs. Monmouth Roseville, 7 p.m.