by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
Steve Hamilton, named on Monday as Elk River’s new football coach, says he’s looking forward to rebuilding the sagging Elks program. And looking forward as well to his young daughters having cousins at their birthday parties.
“We’ve liked it down here in Georgia. It’s warm and it’s a great football state,” said Hamilton. “But when we came here we didn’t have kids. In these four years we’ve had two daughters, and we don’t family down here. That’s what’s most important to us now.”
Hamilton, 40, a Michigan native currently coaching at Woodlands High School in Cartersville, Georgia, after two previous stints in Michigan, was offered the job Monday and accepted, said John Barth, activities director.
“He has been successful everywhere he’s gone. He has taken over programs that weren’t doing well and made them better,'” said Barth. “That’s what we need here. He has gotten coach of the year honors. He has coached schools of our size. He is excited to be coming here.”
Steve, a social studies teacher, and wife Stephanie, an elementary teacher, visited relatives in Fergus Falls last summer, with their daughters, age 2 1/2 and nine months. His mother and step-father, and one sister, live in Minneapolis. Another sister lives in Montana but comes to Minnesota frequently.
“It was nice to see our daughters playing with their cousins,” said Hamilton. “On the way back, my wife and I decided we should come back here to live. Our three-year-old’s next birthday party will be the first one where she’s has cousins around.”
Hamilton said he also had an a suburban school but opted for Elk River because of the small-town atmosphere.
“We are very excited about this opportunity,” he said.
Hamilton was chosen from a field of 50 applicants to succeed Mike Cross, who resigned after eight seasons. The 2010 Elk season was a struggle as the Elks went 0-9 after suspensions for a hazing incident depleted the starting lineup. Before that the Elks had five seasons of just one or two wins.
“I know what happened last year, but that’s in the past, and we’ll make sure the coaches and players know that.” said Hamilton.
“We’ll be starting at the bottom, so there’s nowhere to go but up. I’ve dealt with that in a couple places already, and I really enjoy the rebuilding process. We’ve got to get the kids out and coach them up. They are going to do things the right way, and they will represent the school and the program the way it should be.”
In Escanaba, Michigan, on the Upper Penninsula, Hamilton played football, basketball, baseball and track.
Escanaba is best-known to Minnesotans as hometown of former star pitcher Kevin Tapani.
“Kevin was quarterback of a state championship team at Escabana,” Hamilton noted. “I was quarterback, too, but didn’t win a state championship.”
Hamilton attended Northern Michigan University where he went out for football but didn’t last long due to a neck issue.
He started his coaching career in Michigan as offensive coordinator at Tawas Area for three years, then became head coach at Bad Axe for three years, and took them two their first two state appearances in 20 years.
He moved to Carlson High School in Gibraltar for seven years, taking them to one conference title and four state playoff trips, and the school’s first-ever playoff win. One team set school records for wins, points and shutouts. He was named Region Coach of the Year in 2006.
Hamilton then moved south and took over a struggling Woodlands program that went 1-10 the first year and 5-5 the second year. The last two years they were 3-7 each year, with just two seniors last fall. Ten of his players those four years got college scholarships, his resume states, and the offense he implemented averaged around 400 yards per game.
Winters won’t faze the Hamilton family.
“Being from the UP, I know what winters are,” he chuckled.
He’s looking forward to August practices where it’s not above 100 degrees every day like in Georgia.
“If the kids complain about the heat,” he said, “I’ll tell them they don’t know what heat is.”