TOLONO — In Scott Hamilton’s ideal world, a typical high school football season for the Unity program he leads ends in late November.
With an appearance at either Memorial Stadium in Champaign or Huskie Stadium in DeKalb, coaching the Rockets in a state title game.
He’s done so five times during his 27 seasons roaming the sidelines for the perennial power in southern Champaign County.
Then, it’s at least a month of decompressing from the sport he loves. By design, for both his sake, his assistant coaches’ sake and most importantly, his players’ sake.
“We kind of just try to get away until the first of the year,” Hamilton said.
That isn’t the case heading into the upcoming fall for Unity. Or any other high school football program in the state of Illinois. The traditional offseason of weightlifting, conditioning workouts and camps are all on a different timeframe this year after a condensed spring season ended for teams on April 23 before the Friday night lights flicker back on for a fall season on Aug. 27.
Unity, like other small schools, relies heavily on multi-sport athletes. Hamilton said he doesn’t plan on having any football 7-on-7 events until July at the earliest. What had turned into an annual trip to Rantoul for a three-day camp on the former Chanute Air Force Base won’t take place this summer, either.
The Rockets started lifting weighs — and will continue to do so three times a week — on Wednesday. Balancing the rest needed between four months of playing a physically demanding sport is a juxtaposition Hamilton and other high school coaches face this summer.
“It’ll be important this summer to let the kids have a transition from sports they’re currently in,” Hamilton said, “to having a summer to then going into fall sports.”
Hamilton is the dean of area high school football coaches who also doubles as Unity’s athletic director. And he’s already a member of the Illinois Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame who will carry a 249-64 record that includes 25 playoff appearances under his watch into the next football season for the Rockets.
Yet he’s preparing for a season unlike at any other point in his distinguished coaching career.
“We’re trying to manage how do you do that and give kids time off,” Hamilton said. “It’s been a group effort by all of our coaches. We’ve kind all worked together to not wear the kids out.”
Unity had nine seniors on its spring roster that finished 5-0, including our Player of the Year in bulldozing running back Lane Innes. He’ll need to be replaced, along with all five offensive line starters. But quarterback Blake Kimball returns. So does standout defensive lineman Austin McDaniel and potential playmakers at wide receiver like Tyler Hensch, Damian Knoll and Dillon Rutledge.
The expectations for another successful Unity football season will take shape this fall in the communities of Tolono, Philo, Sidney, Pesotum and Sadorus that feed into Unity. How the Rockets go about managing their summer could go a long way in just how long their season ends up going. With more sporting events and teams opening up their venues to full capacity, Hamilton is optimistic those passionate Unity fans will be able to come out in droves like they’re accustomed to this fall.
“I hope we’re at that point in late August where we don’t have to sell limited tickets, we don’t have to mess with masks and our kids can get dressed in their own locker room and not in the gym,” Hamilton said. “Whether it’s athletics, music or drama, those are the things that kids can think back on their high school days as the good times they had. Not so much the biology test they spent all night studying for. Hopefully, we can get back to all that.”
Matt Daniels is the sports editor at The News-Gazette. He can be reached at 217-373-7422 or at email@example.com.