by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
It’s the middle of the summer but the Steve Hamilton era of Elk River football is already under way.
The new head coach from out-of-state, and his staff that’s mostly holdovers from last year, are conducting an Elk Pride camp this week.
“We are asking more of them than they’ve ever been asked,” said Hamilton about his new team. “They are working out four days a week all summer. They are showing up and working hard …. The guys who are going to be our players are all here.”
Hamilton, 40, a Michigan native who previously coached high school teams in Michigan and Georgia, succeeds Mike Cross, who resigned after eight years.
The current Elk Pride camp, Monday through Thursday, is for varsity and JV level players. Two camps for younger levels will be held July 25-29.
While most of Cross’s assistants were retained by Hamilton, one notable exception is offensive coordinator Keith Howard. Hamilton, a quarterback in high school at Escanaba, MI, will be his own coordinator. Howard, a counselor at ERHS, has joined the football staff at Coon Rapids.
The Elk staff has 18 coaches, nine varsity and nine at lower levels. Nine coaches are ERHS graduates which Hamilton notes is “pretty cool.” Among them is Brad Olson, who remains as defensive coordinator.
One newcomer to the defensive brain trust is Chad Baldwin, who has considerable experience running defenses, said Hamilton.
Hamilton was hired by outgoing activities director John Barth on Jan. 31, from a field of 50 applicants.
Hamilton and wife Stephanie have relatives in Minnesota, which, he said, was a big reason he took the job, so their two young children could see more of their cousins, aunts and uncles growing up.
The Elks have logged just six wins the last six years, including 0-9 last year. Hamilton took over sagging programs at two Michigan schools and made them winners, and improved the fortunes of Cartersville, Georgia, the last four years although they were 12-29 overall.
Asked if he felt a kinship with new Gophers coach Jerry Kill, another coach with a history of reviving programs, he grinned.
“I met Coach Kill when he was at Saginaw Valley State (in Michigan) and I was coaching about an hour away,” said Hamilton. “He will do a good job there. He’s got to get those Gophers going. Of course, being from Michigan myself, I can’t wish him too much luck.”
Hamilton feels comfortable and confident in his new surroundings.
“I’m from a blue-collar town, too, like Elk River,” said Hamilton. “I know we are not going to be the fastest team in the state, but I know we are going to work hard and do things the right way.”