The infamous underdog story. Americans eat it up every time.
But is a 6-foot-3, 255-pound All-American defensive end with 20.5 sacks in a season be considered an underdog?
Adrian Hamilton sees himself that way because he put up those numbers at Prairie View A&M.
|HAMILTON (2011)||MATHIS (2002)|
|Tackles for Loss||26.5||31|
|* — denotes SWAC season record|
“I’m not going to get drafted where I think I should,” Hamilton said. “They [NFL scouts] had bust my bubble in that aspect, but they did say it’s no knock towards me it’s just a knock towards the competition, level of competition and most players before me.”
It wasn’t supposed to be that way for Hamilton coming out of famed Dallas Carter High School in 2006. He was rated the No. 51 inside linebacker prospect in the country by Rivals.com. He signed a letter-of-intent to Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys wanted to grayshirt Hamilton and waited to tell him until the week before he was supposed to report.
Hamilton decided to sit out the year and ended up transferring to Texas Tech as a preferred walk-on. Current East Carolina head coach Ruffin McNeill was the Red Raiders’ interim defensive coordinator for a good portion of the 2007 season. He didn’t remember everything about Hamilton’s stint at Texas Tech, but he remembered the talent.
“I thought he had a great work ethic about him.” McNeill said. “He had a lot of athletic ability, you could see that as he worked on film coming out of high school and then when he came to Texas Tech.”
Unfortunately for Hamilton, that situation didn’t work out favorably for him. By not getting to the team until the first game, he played sparingly and was not sure about his financial status. “I couldn’t hold out enough time to wait to get a scholarship, I earned one but they didn’t have one to give.” Hamilton said.
“I couldn’t afford to keep putting out $25,000 to $30,000 a year, so I went home. It’s not like Texas Tech had the opportunity to prepare for me to come, so with that being said they already had their full amount of scholarships given. Those players aren’t graduating or those players are not leaving those scholarships where is the money supposed to come from.”
Back home, Hamilton enrolled in Dallas Community College and chose to stay away from football for two years to focus on academics. The love of the game didn’t die. Hamilton was looking to play at Texas A&M or Houston, but was given a different idea.
One of his professors who had known Hamilton since childhood suggested he attend an historically black institution. Hamilton did his research, saw Prairie View A&M had a winning program, talked with the coaches and took a “walk on faith.”
Miles Brandon is a defensive line coach for the Panthers. Brandon said he knew Hamilton was a talent and really saw it the first one-on-one drill.
“Besides him looking the part physically, what really jumped out is when we had one-on-ones and we did pass rushing.” Brandon said of Hamilton. “And he got up the field and did an up-and-under move on the tackle, came inside and it just looked so effortless. We could see why he was playing at Texas Tech.”
What Coach Brandon and another defensive line coach, Gabe Northern, tried most to instill in Hamilton was a sense of accountability and leadership.
“He was the only senior on the defensive line last year, and we wanted him to really step up and be accountable for the younger guys.” Brandon said.
“We were kind of hard on him, he fought us tooth and nail about it early, but once he understood the big picture, he was OK with it. Once he understood and grabbed the concept and realized it wasn’t personal but it was about the team and not about Adrian, but preparing Adrian for his future endeavors, he took it and kind of ran with it.”
The 2011 season turned out to be the season Hamilton had been waiting for since he left Carter. He said before the season that he was going to break the SWAC conference record set for sacks, set by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Robert Mathis. Hamilton’s 20.5 sacks made him look like a prophet – and Mathis tweeted him some encouraging words.
“He told me to keep my head up keep working hard,” Hamilton said. “Everybody who came from a small school had to go through similar or difficult type of issues about the competition. It’s not that big of a difference. He was a fifth-round pick and look at him now.”
Still, after the season some scouts thought of Hamilton as a preferred free agent for the NFL, but he was invited to play in the Casino Del Sol All-Star Game in January. With a chance to show his skills against top competition, he opened eyes on the first day of practice tallying four sacks, and during the game he recorded two.
Since then, Hamilton has been back home taking his final 15 hours toward his degree online and training to prepare for Prairie View A&M’s Pro Day on March 21. He was invited to the NFL Combine, but like the rest of his journey things didn’t quite go according to plan.
Hamilton said Prairie View received his invitation from the NFL, but with Hamilton not on campus, the information didn’t make it to his current residence in time for him to respond.
Conversely, Prairie View head coach Heishma Northern said the school never recieved an invitation for Hamilton to attend the combine.
“Nobody on this staff, nor his agent can ever say that we received an invitation for him to attend the combine,” Northern said. “It would have been the biggest thing to happen in the history of Prairie View football. We would not have missed that.”
Whatever the case, Hamilton is concerned with the present.
“It’s too late now. Can’t be bitter. What can I really do? I’m in the biggest interviewing part of my life right now.”
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