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Staying course pays off for ex-Trojan standout Hamm

Sports writer

Two years later, the image remains etched in some minds.

Former Hillsboro High School football player Lucas Hamm hurdling a Garden Plain offensive line and drilling quarterback Derek Fisher.

The play didn’t count because a whistle was blown, nevertheless it showed the level of intensity and ferocity that made Ham one of HHS’ greatest defensive players.

If the question, “which was the best team in high football school history?” was asked in Hillsboro, the first answer likely to come to mind is legendary coach Don Penner’s 1986 group, which finished 11-1.

The Trojans fielded good football teams after that year, advancing to the postseason seven times since that year. However, the basketball court has been where Hillsboro has gained its most success.

Twenty years later, a team came along which may have given the 1986 team a run for its money as the greatest HHS team.

Spearheading a team loaded with many stars, which came within six points of playing for a state title, 2007 graduate Hamm did something that eclipses even winning a state championship.

Not just once, but twice.

Hamm accomplished something never before achieved in any sport by a Hillsboro athlete by playing on back-to-back National Junior College Athletic Association national championship teams.

He received his second ring Dec. 6 after Butler County outlasted the Snow College Badgers for the second year in a row.

After drilling Snow in 2007, it was a dramatic double-overtime thriller, 37-30, in the Tops of The Mountains Bowl at Salt Lake City.

Prelude to greatness

Football success always was on Hamm’s doorstep, even throughout junior high school.

The bruising runner and punishing defender was a dominant figure on two Trojan teams that went a combined 16-2 during his seventh and eighth-grade seasons.

Both losses came at the expense of Wichita Collegiate teams, featuring current Oregon University freshman Chris Harper and Kansas State wide receiver Joe Houlik.

Dating back to 2003, former Trojan coach Dustin McEwen was ecstatic about the talent on the team.

Prior to Hamm’s arrival in 2003, a freshman starting for the varsity team was something only a small handful of players at Hillsboro had ever done.

From the moment he stepped onto the field as a starter, Hamm made an impact.

The Trojans ended the regular season at 5-4,and advanced to the playoffs.

That allowed McEwen and the Trojans to knock off Riley County in bi-districts before being trampled in regionals by eventual champion Conway Springs.

McEwen elected to take over at Cheney after the ’03 season, leaving assistant Len Coryea the daunting task of trying to match six straight postseason appearances.

After back-to-back losing seasons, Hamm and his fellow senior teammates were down to their last chance at a postseason bid.

“Us senior guys basically decided that we were not ready to be done playing football with each other yet, so we gave it everything we had,” Hamm said. “We had a few struggles along the way but we overcame adversity and kept taking it one step at a time.”

Record-breaking season

Although he was a fullback and tight end, Hamm struck more fear into opponents on defense as Hillsboro outscored its first two opponents by a combined 84-6.

The Trojans rebounded from a loss to Collegiate to crush their next two opponents by a combined 93-12 before hitting a speed bump against Smoky Valley, 14-13.

Hillsboro snapped a two-game losing streak to Marion, but the Trojans still were looking down the barrel of a loaded gun after a 17-12 loss to Hesston.

With a 5-3 record, hopes for the postseason hung in the balance with the regular season finale against Remington.

After a three-year absence from the Class 3A playoffs, Hillsboro was back again, destroying the Broncos, 42-0.

The Trojans pounded the Halstead Dragons every way possible in bi-district, 28-7, to move on to regionals against the coach who put Hillsboro football back on the map — McEwen and the Cheney Cardinals.

In a defensive battle, the fabled 2006 seniors’ careers rested on a two-point conversion in overtime with the Cardinals up 7-6.

Hillsboro wasn’t ready for the magical ride to end as quarterback Spencer Brown found Jake Yoder in the end zone and sent the Cardinals packing, 8-7.

The Trojans then went on to maul Sacred Heart in a bone-chilling cold during the sectional round by a deceiving 32-21 score.

“I think that it surprised us a little about how far we made it, but we believed that if we played to the best of our abilities we would be able to compete against anyone,” Hamm said.

For the first time in school history, a Hillsboro team lasted more than three rounds in November as the 2006 win against Sacred Heart matched the ’86 team’s single-season record for most games played.

All that stood between the Trojans and going where no other team in school history had ever ventured before — playing for a 3A state championship — was top-ranked Garden Plain.

Led by current K-State freshman running back Logan Dold, the Owls were able to blitz Hillsboro’s defense with a ground game unlike any it had seen, stinging the Trojans for four touchdowns and 275 yards.

Garden Plain would race to what would appear to be a comfortable lead before the Trojans were able to mount a valiant comeback.

Hamm capped the amazing season by catching a tipped pass from Troy Frick, and shedding Dold on his way for the final touchdown.

Hillsboro came up on the short end of a 31-26 score in sub-state, but their final mark of 9-4 left the 2006 team the sole owner of most games played in school history.

Hamm’s 184 tackles on the year were more than enough to cement him as an all-class 3A selection by both The Wichita Eagle and The Topeka Capital-Journal with the TCJ selecting him as second-team all-class, all-state.

While his high school career had ended, there was still one more game left to play, as he became the fifth Trojan to be chosen to play in the Kansas Shrine Bowl — the first in four years.

“The Shrine Bowl was a great experience,” he said. “It was a real honor to be able to play with some of the best players in the state and for such a good cause.” 

Churning out champs

Wanting to get a taste of big-time football that would possibly attract interest from solid NCAA Division I teams, Hamm shunned offers from all the state’s small colleges along with all but one of its junior colleges.

He hit the jackpot, opting to join former teammate Wade Wiebert and play for one of the nation’s highest regarded programs at any level — Troy Morrell’s Butler Community College Grizzlies.

“The offers out of high school were not exactly what I wanted,” Hamm said. “My dream had always been to try to play D-I football, so I decided that going to Butler would give me the best chance to get there. Butler was a winning program with a strong tradition.”

Few teams in football had dominated the way the Grizzlies had with three national titles in seven years.

Many of Morrell’s former players went on to star at some of college football’s finest institutions, as well as the National Football League.

The entrance proved to be a shock after Hamm entered on the notion he’d be playing defense.

He made the final cut, but as a tight end on offense, and suddenly, the four-year starter at Hillsboro found himself in a spot he never experienced — second string.

“When I found out that I made the team as a tight end, I was just thrilled that I made the team but sort of heartbroken that I wouldn’t be playing linebacker,” he said. “I had always planned on playing that position and I was just a little shocked about the position move.”

Hamm had gone from being in on every down to seeing limited action, more so on special teams than even tight end, leaving him to help the Grizzlies off the field as well as on it.

Midway through the season, he was shifted from tight end to fullback where he became a regular in Morrell’s substitute rotation.

The Grizzlies left a wake of destruction during Hamm’s freshman year through both the regular season and the playoffs for a seventh straight KJCAA title, and the championship victory against Snow.

The sole aspect that spoiled Butler’s run was the fact it had to settle for a split national championship with Northwest Mississippi.

Despite the glory of being part of a national championship team, Hamm still longed to play the position that earned him fame at HHS.

Once the school year ended, he struggled with the thought of transferring to a school that would put him at linebacker, or returning for his final year at Butler.

Waiting game

It took a lot of thinking, but Hamm decided Butler was where he needed to be, so he willingly accepted his new position.

Hamm put in a grueling offseason, continuing to work with the first team during spring workouts while bulking up to 240 pounds along with adding muscle and speed.

Hamm’s strong offseason was enough for Morrell to give Hamm the first look starting at fullback.

The season opened with a marquee match-up Aug. 28 with the Grizzlies taking on the then third-ranked Blinn (Texas) Buccaneers, in Wichita’s Cessna Stadium in front of 13,000 fans.

However, the Buccaneers handed Butler its first loss since Sept. 2006, 23-20, and replace the Grizzlies atop the polls.

“The Blinn game was quite an experience,” Hamm said. “I had never played in front of a crowd like that.

“The loss was a setback, but coach kept telling us that we would make it back to the top if we kept taking care of business every week.”

Butler did just that, clearing every obstacle thrown into its path each week with ease, heading into the conference’s game of the year the last week of the regular season.

While the Grizzlies were destroying opponents and moving up as high as third in the nation, the Fort Scott Greyhounds were doing the same, climbing up the polls to number four.

It was Grizzlies outrunning the Greyhounds, though, cruising to an easy 24-7 victory.

The bid at a national title was still a possibility, but the Grizzlies would need some help.

It became a reality when top-ranked Blinn lost to Navarro (Texas).

Butler continued to win to set up a championship re-match with the Badgers.

Hamm added more honors to his long list, being selected as the Jayhawk Conference’s first-team fullback, before helping earn a second ring.

“Making the all-KJCAA first team was a real honor,” he said. “It was not really expected, but it gives you a good feeling when others recognize you for the hard work that you put in.

“This year is much more special to me than last year. Last year I was only a freshman and I didn’t have as big a role on the team.

“This year it was totally different. I was a major contributor to the team and went through all the blood, sweat, and hard work that the winter workouts and spring ball took.”

Hamm’s future plans include returning to Butler for the second semester where he is on track to graduate in May with an associates degree in agribusiness before transferring to a four-year school and pursue a marketing degree.

Presently, mainly NCAA I-AA and Division II teams such as juggernaut Pittsburg State and Fort Hays State have shown the most interest.

“Those aren’t really ones I’m really looking for, so I plan on continuing to work out and see what offers come in late,” he said. “Some guys did that last year and it really worked out for them.

“The best part of playing at Butler was becoming part of the family there. The Butler football program is a very close-knit family and once you are in, you’re in for good. The success that we did while I was there is what I’ll remember most.”

Going 23-1 in two years along with two straight national titles is more or less a fairy tale for most, but Hamm lived it.

While he never won a ring during a spectacular high school career in football, basketball, or baseball, staying the course at Butler allowed him the opportunity.

Not just one, but two.

Last modified Dec. 30, 2008

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