After returning all but one player from last year’s Illinois 8-Man Football Association state runner-up team, Amboy-LaMoille-Ohio had one thing on its mind in 2023: hoisting the championship trophy.
With a 13-0 season and resounding 74-22 win over Ridgewood in the I8FA state championship Nov. 17, the Clippers delivered on their immense potential and achieved their season-long goal.
The state title was Amboy’s first since 1984. The undefeated regular season was its first since 1986.
Leading the Clippers through it all was fourth-year head coach Scott Payne.
Payne, the 2023 Sauk Valley Media Football Coach of the Year, answered questions from sports writer Dan Wussow.
How did it feel to achieve your season-long goal of winning an I8FA state championship, and how special was it to bring a championship trophy back to Amboy for the first time since 1984?
Payne: It was an amazing feeling to win the state championship. I was just so happy for the players and all three communities. It was so special to bring a championship back to Amboy for the first time since 1984. The way everyone supported these guys and cheered for them all year was awesome.
What was it like to share that moment after the championship game with your family?
Payne: To be able to share that moment with my family is a moment I will never forget. There was a lot of emotions from all of them. My older sister hugged me and said mom and dad would be so proud (Payne’s father passed away in 2008 from ALS, and his mother passed away in 2012), so that brought some tears to my eyes.
How much did 2022′s state championship loss motivate your team this season?
Payne: The players were so motivated after last year that they wrote the score of the game on the mirrors in the weight room, and they said they never want to feel that way again. So, I told them there is only one thing we can do, and that is to outwork everybody in the weight room and on the practice field. That is what they did all summer long and all season long. This was one of the hardest-working teams that I have ever been around.
What made this year and this team special?
Payne: This year was special because of the players. They were a great group of kids to be around everyday; they made everything about this season so fun, and they are such a close group of kids. Some of the things they would say in the locker room, I would walk away and just laugh to myself.
What was the key to going undefeated this year?
Payne: The players were so focused on what they wanted to achieve. They never looked ahead, they just concentrated on what we were doing that day or who we were playing that night. Our motto this year was to go 1-0 every week, and they understood that.
Aside from the state championship, are there any memorable moments from this season that immediately come to mind (on or off the field with the team)?
Payne: When we played Polo in the semifinal game, and our fans made a tunnel for the team to walk through to get on the field. They were so loud cheering for the boys. It was a great moment.
Last year, QB Eddie Jones started almost half the season when Tucker Lindenmeyer was sidelined with an injury. How valuable do you think that experience was for this season, especially in starting off strong with no losses?
Payne: The experience Eddie got last year when he started for Tucker helped him out so much for this season. He had so much more confidence this year, and he understood what we need out of him as the starting quarterback. Eddie had a phenomenal season for us. I am so proud of him and everyone on this football team.
What is the best piece of coaching advice you’ve ever received?
Payne: Have and invest in strong relationships with the player, and you’re not just teaching sports, but life. Helping kids become adults. Responsibility plus accountability equals success.
Who have been your biggest coaching mentors throughout the years? Who has taught you the most about coaching?
Payne: My biggest coaching mentors are my dad (Dan Payne), my brother (Chris Payne) and Gary Jones. All three of them have taught me so much over the years.
How have you been able to build this program and sustain success over the past few years?
Payne: I have the best assistant coaches a head coach could ask for. They all have done so much to help build this program. This award is just as much theirs. To build this program is a group effort, and they do an amazing job. Plus, the players are a big part of building the program. They all bought into what we were telling them and teaching them. They didn’t question anything. They just went and did what we ask of them everyday in the weight room and on the practice field.
How much fun was it to coach this last group of seniors?
Payne: This group of seniors were freshmen my first year as the head coach. It has been a privilege to watch them grow and mature the last four years. I can’t even put into words how much fun this group of seniors made this year. This is a group of kids I will never forget.