Realignment marks significant change in fortune for Hampton football

Thursday, January 30, 2020 | 5:33 PM

Less than six years ago, Hampton was a good football program. In 2014, the team went 9-2 and won its conference. The next year, it qualified for playoffs again and made a WPIAL quarterfinals appearance.

Then expansion and realignment happened, along with some really bad times for the program.

“I will say this,” coach Jacque DeMatteo said. “The last four years, we had kids that could’ve quit and made up thousands of excuses. Most of them didn’t. I say thanks to those who stuck with our program, kept believing, working hard and preparing.”

A handful of programs were placed at a significant disadvantage after the PIAA expanded from four to six classes. Hampton was one of them.

Over the past four years, Hampton sank to a 6-34 overall record, including a winless season its first year as one of the smallest teams in Class 5A. But the story isn’t the difficulty the team faced as a result of its placement, according to DeMatteo. It’s the resolve the program showed and the growth between the wins and losses.

“At one point we weren’t even able to compete,” DeMatteo said of matchups with marquee programs like Woodland Hills, Gateway or Penn Hills that often doubled them in size.

“Over the last couple of years, I thought we belonged.”

Reading between the lines, the growth was evident. Though Hampton went 2-8 last season, it battled through injuries to key seniors, including starting quarterback Ian Andersson, and lost four of its games by one possession.

Still, the team struggled to draw players. It had to cancel two junior varsity games. Facing teams with similar depth will help level the playing field.

“We didn’t have fresh legs for Saturdays,” he said. “When you’re facing a 70-to-80-man roster, and you have 35 to 45, that’s not cutting it. If we can play a roster that is comparable to ours, maybe we get back to 2014.”

Though DeMatteo called the move to Class 4A “a helpful thing for us,” he was quick to temper expectations sight unseen. The team just started offseason weight training, and many of its key players are in other sports, which he strongly encourages.

“I never met a coach that didn’t like a great athlete,” he said. “I participated in three sports in high school, had exposure to different coaches and different friends. I wouldn’t change it for the world. My kid (quarterback Matt DeMatteo) plays three sports. He may not be great at any of them, but he’s solid, and he’ll graduate being a better person, I believe.”

Aside from DeMatteo returning with experience at quarterback, senior leadership should help bring consistency in the offseason program. Some players, such as second-team all-conference defensive tackle Dawson Dietz, are wrestling while others like honorable-mention all-conference guard Ryan Mankivich are hitting the weight room.

“Take nothing for granted,” DeMatteo said. “Who knows, this conference could be one of the best in the state. We don’t know, we just know we need kids to come out for football, prepare, commit themselves and be consistent and let the chips fall.”


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