Last season was a challenging one for the Hamilton football team.
The three-win Chargers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2006, which was also the last time Hamilton went 3-6.
With the loss of several key players from last season's squad, including the team's top three rushers, Hamilton will rely somewhat on its seniors to navigate the challenging waters of the Greater Metro Conference.
What Hamilton does return is one of the better players in the state in senior offensive lineman Calvin Dassow, who stands at 6-foot-7 and weighs around 310 pounds. Dassow, a first-team All-GMC pick last season, will help clear the way for running backs, but who the primary backs will be is still somewhat uncertain.
Senior quarterback Jordan Smith is Hamilton's top returning rusher, but senior Nick Mirasola and junior Connor Parris figure to be in the mix at the running back position.
"As always, we will expect a lot from our seniors," coach John Damato said. "We have some seniors that return with playing experience in 2015. We feel that the competition at each position will be very competitive. Our players know that what they did last year is in the past. They realize they must compete every day for their position and must earn their position on this team."
But expect a number of juniors and sophomores to be impact players.
"We also realize that we need our juniors and sophomores to compete and to be key components of this team," Damato said. "When all three classes are unified and are competing with each other, that's when we become the best team that we can become."
The running game will always be the primary offensive weapon, but Smith did throw four touchdowns last year and will be relied on to attack with both his arm and feet. Junior Ty Olejnik, a dynamic athlete who qualified for two events at the WIAA Division 1 state track meet last spring, could be a primary target of Smith's. Other wide receivers for Hamilton include Chase Boudreau, Dylan Gissal, Jaden Hawkins, Jonny Thompson and Eric Torres.
Alongside Dassow, Evan Laskowski, a senior captain, will help anchor the offensive line. Other linemen include Mason Snell, Gabe Easley, Sean Durian, Tom Endries, Cal Botsford, Zach Brewer, Jacob Fralick, Jacob Heinzelman and Derek Moore.
Brad Purko, Donny Flowers and Will Enneking are Hamilton's tight ends.
Senior linebacker captains Ryan Hubbell and Joey Bolda ranked third and fourth on the team in total tackles last year, respectively. Hubbell was honorable-mention All-Conference as a junior defensive back. Other linebackers include Jesse Fryda, Mark Houle, Jared Lewinski, Zac Bagley, Andrew Gwinn and Colin Mittelstaedt.
"Ryan Hubbell is back and he has been doing an outstanding job," Damato said. "He is not only a great linebacker but a mature and committed leader as well. He will be a key component to the success of this team."
Another senior captain is Cole Roepke, who is expected to be a difference maker on the defensive line after 47 total tackles and six tackles for loss in 2015. Ryan Filo, Jordan Neumann, Colton Heisdorf, Matt Kolesari, Alex Manojlovic, Mitch Macaluso and Travis Frey will all play on the defensive line this year.
Defensive backs include Nick Trawicki, Jake Kessenich, Olejnik, Will Geels, Tyler Wroblewski, Alex Kroening and Adam Hartung.
Hamilton will have just three home games this season.
"I do not see this as a disadvantage," Damato said. "We will have an opportunity like everyone else to extend our home game schedule into the playoffs. If this does not happen, having played six road games will prepare us for our road games into the playoffs."
Sussex Hamilton Chargers
Player to watch: Calvin Dassow is an intimidating force on the offensive line, but the Chargers will have new faces in several key spots, which includes the heavily-used running back position. Dassow will be sure to pave the way for whoever runs behind him.
You'll get to know: Ryan Hubbell and Joey Bolda. The senior linebackers are team captains and ranked third and fourth, respectively, in total tackles last season. Both should be near the top of the list in tackles once again.
We say: The Chargers lost key seniors from last year, but have a number of experienced varsity starters back from 2015's three-win season. Playing in the Greater Metro is never easy, and this year will be no different. HHS should be a playoff contender, but getting wins over Marquette, Brookfield Central, Brookfield East and Menomonee Falls is always a tall task.
First team: Calvin Dassow (OL)
Second team: None
Honorable mention: Ryan Hubbell (DB)
First-team losses: Sam Herriges (RB), Ty Botsford (LB), Anthony Gatzow (DL)
Coach: John Damato
Outcome: Did not make playoffs
Last year (home in bold)
Franklin L 34-13
Cedarburg L 20-13
Marquette L 42-14
Wauwatosa East W 37-9
Menomonee Falls L 13-10
West Allis Hale W 20-14
Brookfield Central L 31-6
West Allis Central W 35-7
Brookfield East L 38-20
Aug. 19 South Milwaukee
Aug. 26 Cedarburg
Sept. 2 Marquette
Sept. 9 Wauwatosa East
Sept. 16 Menomonee Falls
Sept. 23 West Allis Hale
Sept. 30 Brookfield Central
Oct. 7 West Allis Central
Oct. 14 Brookfield East