Hamilton football rebounds from scandal
November 30, 2017 by Joshua Shure, Arizona State University
Coming into the season, the expectations of the Hamilton football team were low. The Huskies were coming off what was considered arguably their worst season in school history, going 7-5. Prior to the season, the school and the team faced one of the worst hazing scandals in Arizona high school athletics history. Due to the scandal turned criminal investigation, the Huskies head coach Steve Belles, who had led the school to five state championships since 2006, was removed from his position.
Dick Baniszewski, an assistant principal and junior varsity coach at Hamilton, was tasked with the duties of interim head coach for the varsity team for the 2017 season.
With the whirlwind surrounding the scandal, a handful of returning players chose to transfer from Hamilton, putting the football team at a slight disadvantage before the season even started.
“From the athlete standpoint we were obviously more talent laden on offense than defense,” said Baniszewski. “ We took our greatest hits of people that we lost were from defense. We had a good core of players, but it was about getting them past all the distractions that were going on.”
While Baniszewski may have been new at the helm, most of the players were already familiar with the coach because he had already been apart of the program for years. Upon taking over, Baniszewski, who had been a head coach prior at McClintock, understood that the team needed to adopt a new philosophy and culture.
“As a team before the season, we adopted our own ethos known as B.L.A.S.T.,” said Baniszewski. “It stands for brotherhood, love, accountability, stability and trust.”
Baniszewski, whose father was a Marine, guided the team with militaristic principles to enact discipline and accountability. In the summer before the season, he brought in a Navy Seal to discuss with the team what it means to set a perimeter, an imaginary boundary to block out distractions that could impact the team.
“We [the coaching staff] were having to talk about what’s going on off the field daily,” said Baniszewski. “All sorts of stuff came up, other students, other school’s student sections, social media, girlfriends, you name it.”
- offensive line coach Mark Tucker, who has spent the past 19 years coaching for Hamilton since the school’s founding, is known by many of the players on the team as a “life guy” for his nature of relating football back to everyday life. Tucker, who has a decorated history in collegiate and professional football, uses his own experiences with football to help his players on and off the field.
“I try to explain to the kids it’s not so much playing the game of football, it’s what you take away from the game of football, it’s the intangibles,” said Tucker. “It’s the camaraderie, it’s the teamwork, it’s the sacrifice, it’s the dedication, and it’s the work ethic.”
With an organized, enthusiastic approach, Baniszewski instilled a “humble and hungry” mindset within his players and coaching staff. The Huskies played with a chip on their shoulder throughout the season. Senior running back Jawhar Jordan in essence echoed his coach about avoiding distractions.
“We knew everyone was watching and waiting for us to do poorly,” said Jordan, who is committed to Syracuse University. “We kept our heads down and blocked out all of the negativity and focused on football.”
Tucker shared a similar sentiment to Jordan about the expectations others had of the team coming into season.
“Everyone expected us to be (terrible) this year,” said Tucker. “No one expected us to win as often as we did, we relished the role of being an underdog and being an afterthought.”
The Huskies won seven of their first eight games before dropping their last two games to the two best 6A teams in state, conference rivals Perry and Chandler.
The Huskies who were given the No.5 seed in the playoffs beat Skyline in the first round of the playoffs, but got matched against Perry for the 6A quarterfinals.
Hamilton crashed out of the playoffs two weeks ago with a 70-14 loss to Perry. Perry is slotted to play against fellow conference rival Chandler for the 6A State Championship in Tucson Saturday.
Regardless of the loss, Baniszewski is adamant that his team proved they were one of the best teams in the state this year.
“We lost to Chandler and Perry, but so did everyone else,” said Baniszewski. “The way I see it we were one of the top four teams in the state.”
Hamilton proved most of their doubters wrong with their ability to overcome the adversity they faced this season. It’s still up in the air on whether Baniszewski will lead the team next year or whether or not the school will look for a different head coach. Baniszewski deserves credit for the work he’s done, but at the end of the day he and the coaching staff say the credit goes to the players.
"In light of all the other stuff we’ve dealt with, these kids have been resilient. People don’t give kids enough credit for how resilient and tough they have been through this season,” said Tucker. “At the end of the day, they just want to play football.”