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Ken Sugiura

Hamilton: HOF ballot ‘very, very big’

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Joe Hamilton, Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, college football, College Football Hall of Fame

Former Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton, a Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1999, is a recruiting assistant on the Tech staff. (Johnny Crawford / AJC File)

Joe Hamilton didn’t play it cool. Not at all.

“That’s a big deal, buddy,” Hamilton said of being named to the College Football Hall of Fame ballot last Thursday, one of 194 former players and coaches up for induction for the 2014 class.

It is the second time for Hamilton, the ACC player of the year, Davey O’Brien Award winner and Heisman Trophy runner-up in 1999. He was previously up for induction in 2012 but was not selected.

“I don’t really get myself too pumped on individual accomplishments, but this one is inexplainable, because all I really wanted to do was play football at a high level,” said Hamilton, a recruiting assistant on the Tech staff since last spring. “And when you tend to do that and people really like how you play the game and acknowledge it and say, ‘Hey, we really liked how you played the game and you were one of the greatest college football players to ever do it,’ it’s just a situation where I get tingles.”

Arguably the most popular Tech player of all-time, Hamilton ended his Tech career as the ACC’s all-time leader in total offense, led the Jackets to two bowl wins and, in winning the Davey O’Brien Award (given to the top quarterback in the country), became the first Tech player to win a national position award. While making the hall is the pinnacle, just being on the ballot is truly an accomplishment. Only first-team All-Americans are eligible, making Hamilton one of 1,500 potential candidates out of 4.99 million who have played college football since the initial game in 1869.

“It goes back to the Heisman (candidacy) feeling,” Hamilton said. “If I won the Heisman or not, I knew it was a great big deal and I feel the same way with the College Football Hall of Fame. Even if I don’t make it in, just get on the vote on the ballot is very big, very, very big.”

There won’t be any pleading his case with the National Football Foundation’s Honors Court, which will select the class, to be announced in May. He said it was humbling to look at the ballot and see other candidates – Brian Bosworth, Jerome Brown, Eric Crouch, Eric Dickerson, Ray Lewis, Rashaan Salaam, Derrick Thomas, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ricky Williams among them. That group alone contains there Heisman Trophy winners (Crouch, Salaam, Williams), two Pro Football Hall of Famers (Dickerson and Thomas) and two more likely to follow (Lewis and Tomlinson).

“I looked at the list and let it sink in that this is unbelievable,” he said.

If you’re wondering about Hamilton’s chances, he’s obviously got a lot of competition, but, for whatever it’s worth, the Davey O’Brien Award is an encouraging indicator. Of the 16 players to win the Davey O’Brien Award prior to Hamilton, 12 have been enshrined. Of the 12, seven also won the Heisman Trophy. Of the other five, two finished second in Heisman voting and three finished third. (Hamilton was runner-up to Ron Dayne in 1999.)

Of the four pre-1999 winners who are not inducted, Todd Blackledge, Kerry Collins, Peyton Manning and Michael Bishop – Manning seems a lock. Bishop was a Heisman runner-up, as was Manning. Collins was fourth in 1994 and Blackledge was sixth. While the candidate’s college career is of primary consideration, “post-football record as a citizen” is also considered. According to the National Football Foundation website, “He must have proven himself worthy as a citizen, carrying the ideals of football forward into his relations with his community.”

Hamilton won’t spend much time worrying about his candidacy.

“I feel pretty honored to be even mentioned,” he said.

Hamilton has been busy aiding Tech’s recruiting efforts, assisting on unofficial visits and requesting high school transcripts, telling prospects, he said, “what we have to offer and how Georgia Tech can change their lives.”

He has also been developing relationships with current players, he said, “helping them with being a student-athlete and what got me through this place and share some knowledge and help them get through.”

Hamilton said he has gotten closer to wide receiver Anthony Autry as he recovers from an ACL tear and guard Shaq Mason, among others. He has reminded Mason that he is entering his final season and that “the Georgia game will be right around the corner.”

The other day, he played basketball with former Tech linebacker and current graduate assistant Steven Sylvester. Said Hamilton, a two-time all-state point guard, “He got a little taste.”

His goal is still to be hired as an on-field coach; as a recruiting assistant, he is not permitted to coach players. He isn’t anxious to move, though.

“I just want to give back to the overall program and wherever I can fit in, I’m willing to do that,” he said. “

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