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Ken SugiuraKen Sugiura

How Joe Hamilton became a Jacket

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Last Thursday, following the announcement naming him to the College Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2014, Joe Hamilton gave a lengthy interview to Matt Winkeljohn, who writes for Sting Daily, and me. Some of it went into the story that ran in Friday’s paper, but plenty more was left out. He said a few more things that I imagine you’ll find interesting that I’ll try to get up this week.

We’ll start with his recruitment to Tech. First off, the decision to play for Tech was no slam dunk, he said. You will remember that Hamilton was part of coach George O’Leary’s first recruiting class, on the heels of the 1-10 season in 1994. Other schools interested were Nebraska (which won the national championship that same year), Penn State and Clemson. He said that Penn State coach Joe Paterno recruited him “very, very hard.”

For a football nut from small town in South Carolina, having legends like Tom Osborne and Paterno visit his home was a huge deal, and he still has photos of them in his family’s living room. However, Hamilton saw himself as a quarterback and quarterback only. For instance, Hamilton said that Paterno told him he would give him a chance to play quarterback, but Hamilton got the feeling that that tryout might not last long past a few interceptions in preseason camp. Other schools recruited him as an “athlete,” recruiting vernacular for players who could play a variety of positions.

“I didn’t want to see them recruiting me as an athlete at all,” Hamilton said.

What helped sell him on Tech and O’Leary was his pitch that he was recruiting him as a quarterback, which obviously held true when Hamilton struggled in his first year as a starter as a redshirt freshman.

“Even when I made mistakes in practice, he never even wavered about changing anything,” Hamilton said. “Just the confidence he had in me, putting me out there week after week, honing my skills, I’m real grateful.”

Another detail of his recruitment – the assistant coach assigned to recruit Hamilton was running backs coach Danny Smith, who had been on Tech’s staff since 1987.

“I owe him a lot for getting me to Tech,” Hamilton said. “It wasn’t that I was going to Tech for Danny Smith, but he did a good job of selling what Tech had to offer. And the reason why I’m so grateful for him was because he didn’t tell an untruth – the contacts, the networking, the ability to play football ata  high level. That’s what I got, that’s been my experience here. I’m grateful to him for that, big time.”

Ironically, Smith was gone by the time Hamilton arrived, having taken a job coaching special teams with the Philadelphia Eagles after the 1994 season. He has been in the NFL since. Hamilton never saw him on Tech’s campus after enrolling. They did re-connect several years ago at a birthday party for Ralph Friedgen.

“We hugged,” Hamilton said. “He still means a lot to me.”

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