Brock Netter, Staff Writer
CHILLICOTHE — For the last decade, summertime for Unioto’s Matt Hoops has revolved around, and been strictly focused, on basketball.
That extra work he’s put in as a coach is only part of the reason he earned his 200th career victory this past season when his Shermans topped Southeastern on Jan. 4.
However, while focus continues to be there for basketball, he now has to be equally as balanced with his newly found football duties.
In January, he was named Unioto’s next head football coach, replacing Jeff Metzler after five seasons at the helm.
Coaching high school football is something he’s never done before. But if you know Matt Hoops, you already know he’s putting everything he has into being the best coach he can possibly be.
“Nothing is normal anymore, but it’s been a smooth transition. Well, as smooth as it can be,” Hoops said. “In a way, with all the [COVID-19] guidelines and everything, it’s sort of helped us slow down to not make things as hectic as it could be. We’ve had a really good summer so far, and came up with a plan to mesh both football and basketball together. I couldn’t be happier with the coaching staff and the job they’ve done to make sure everything has gone seamlessly.”
It’s very rare that any coach takes on the responsibility of coaching the two biggest sports at the high school level.
But then again, Hoops isn’t your average high school coach.
While his name is most associated with basketball, he’s coached football at the middle school level since 2001, spending the last 13 years at Unioto.
Coaching both sports isn’t new to him. However, now, he’ll be doing it at a much higher level.
“Obviously, middle school to high school is a completely different animal, but I love football as much as these kids do, so we’re excited,” Hoops said. “The good thing about coming from the middle school level is that I’ve coached every single one of these kids, so the familiarity is already there. Most of the kids know what to expect from me as a coach, which is a huge part of why the transition has been so easy to make.”
That level of familiarity has more kids transitioning from Unioto’s hallways into the weight room and onto the football field.
Members of Unioto’s basketball team who didn’t play football before, such as Carson DeBord, Gunner Greenwalt and Desean Branson, among others, now find themselves on the gridiron.
Those players will soon be experiencing their first Friday under the lights, while their head coach does the same.
“There was no trying to convince these guys to play. I have a good enough relationship with them, and I just put it out there if they wanted to play then come and play,” Hoops said. “I’ve been extremely impressed with some of these guys. They look as if they’ve been playing for years. But we’ll know more as we continue to get on the field and see how they perform.”
Hoops enjoys a good challenge. That proof is in the pudding.
Look no further than how he’s transformed the school’s basketball program. When he took the job in 2008, the Shermans were one of the worst teams in the SVC. Now, they’re one of the most respected squads in all of Southern Ohio.
Still, this is a different type of challenge.
It’s not about rebuilding a program. Unioto has made the playoffs in three of the last four seasons. Instead, this time, the challenge lies in taking the program to the next level.
“Coach Metzler did an outstanding job taking the programs to heights it had never seen before, and even coach [Jerry] Hudnell before him,” Hoops said. “They got Unioto football back on the map after years of being on the bottom of the conference. The playoffs are great and we want to continue to establish a tradition of making it to Week 11. But we want to reach the point where we don’t just make Week 11, but win Week 11 and get to Week 12.”
Unioto has never seen Week 12. The program has made three playoff appearances, the first coming in 2016, and has lost all three Week 11 games.
That needs to change and it’s at the top of Hoops’ to-do list. So is winning a Scioto Valley Conference title, something Unioto hasn’t done since 1998.
But first, he knows there’s a ton of work to do to even have a chance to reach either of those goals. That’s where his focus lies right now.
“For now, we’ll keep putting the work in day after day to improve and contend for a league title,” he said. “That’s our biggest goal for the year. It’s been 22 years since Unioto was a league football champion, and it’s something we aim to accomplish this year if we do indeed play.”