Winless over the course of 40 games and nearly five years, the Hamilton Wildcats football team has found its way to victory.
Jerel Blanchard, Hamilton’s first-year, head coach, didn’t hang his head after the Wildcats dropped their opener – a 20-6 loss to Mitchell. He guided the team as it surmounted that setback and responded with a 24-0 blanking of the Wooddale Cardinals last Friday (Aug. 26).
Despite the first-week setback, it was clear that this season’s Hamilton team Hamilton was, well, different. They put more players in uniform than in previous years. Bigger as a unit, the Wildcats also flashed more skilled players.
The key factor in Hamilton’s win was the key element in its season-opening loss – penalties. There were too many (26) against Mitchell. Against the Cardinals, the Wildcats committed only six infractions.
Among the standouts in the victory was Kevonte Rodgers, who scored two touchdowns, one rushing and another on a reception.
Quarterback Marcell Ward threw for a touchdown and ran one in; Jordon McKinley also rushed for a touchdown.
Determined to positively affect his players’ self-esteem and raise their expectations, Blanchard introduced a new T-shirt that read “SMU,” South Memphis University.
While one win does not automatically signal a winning streak for Hamilton, the road to getting better started in the spring with the scheduling of all road games against some of the tougher football programs in the city.
“It is the small things we had to clear up,” said Blanchard. “The kids are hungry. We have a relationship with every kid. That is how we were able to get and keep the kids believing in the future of the program. We have a family atmosphere here.”
On keeping the team level
Blanchard has a game plan for keeping the team level-headed.
“In my book, we are still 0-10. We have not won a district game yet. That is how we are going to approach it,” he said.
“We are a hard hat team. We are not going to be flashy. We come to work. My seniors on the way home were already trying to scheme for next week.”
Next up is Sheffield.
“The biggest thing is we want to stay confident in whatever we do. We don’t want to be cocky.… We scheme for other teams, but at the end of the day our athletes are going to be athletes and that is what we depend on.”
Knowing that, for years, Hamilton has been the butt of many people’s jokes, Blanchard said, “I feel good, not only for Hamilton but for the entire community. People all through South Memphis were rooting for us and we were rooting for them.
“No one really talks about it, but the alumni have been a really big push for us. They have done everything possible for us to be successful.”
Before the victory over Harding, Hamilton’s team included “four kids that have never won a football game before this win,” said Blanchard.
On Friday (Sept. 1), the Wildcats will pursue their first district win
The Wildcats will attempt to get their first district win on Friday (Sept. 1) as they take on Sheffield at Crump Stadium in their first home game of the season at 7 p.m.
It was a loss to Sheffield, on Oct. 14, 2017, that started Hamilton’s painfully long losing streak.