Penn State hopes Hamilton's success at wideout trickles down
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) When DaeSean Hamilton made his college football debut last season, he looked like a man trying to make up for lost time.
Team doctors discovered a broken bone in Hamilton's left wrist during his physical in 2013 and shut him down before training camp. By the start of 2014, Hamilton hadn't put in much work with quarterback Christian Hackenberg and instead spent nearly all of his redshirt year healing and recuperating. But he still caught 82 passes for 899 yards and two touchdowns, setting a handful of rookie records for the school.
Penn State players and coaches are no longer worried about finding a No. 1 receiver. Hamilton is their top target on a roster full of young - but mostly unproven - receiver talent.
''I think it's going to be a huge jump in his performance this year,'' Penn State receivers coach Josh Gattis said. ''He's able to carry over the confidence of playing last year. He's had a great offseason, had a great camp and he's truly been the leader for us in our receiver group.''
The position suits Hamilton - a generally calm son of two Marines - and the team needs him in the role.
Penn State signed seven scholarship receivers in the last two recruiting classes and a handful of them will likely play this year. Gattis said he expects to use up to eight receivers, including true freshmen Juwan Johnson and Kevin Polk and redshirt freshman DeAndre Thompkins. They'll join true sophomores Saeed Blacknall and Chris Godwin who debuted alongside Hamilton last season and got more active as the year unfolded.
Hamilton was immediately effective.
He caught 11 passes for 165 yards in his first game, was averaging over eight catches per game at the midway point and led the Big Ten in catches. More importantly, it didn't appear there was any break-in period for the young receiver.
Hamilton drew tough assignments over the middle, absorbing hits that could've caused other youngsters to be gun-shy. He operated on the perimeter as the team's primary outside weapon, running screen routes and quick comebacks. He played downfield, too, out-leaping defensive backs for jump balls. And he quickly became one of the voices of the team, speaking to reporters after wins and losses.
His personality doesn't reflect his fierce playing style and Hamilton has been humble about his early achievements.
The reserved Fredericksburg, Virginia, native insists despite his success, he was learning on the fly last season. Hamilton guessed he has a knack for keying in and picking things up quickly.
''Now I feel like a seasoned vet out here and everything's just coming smoother and faster to me,'' Hamilton said. ''Everything's just slowed down and I have my football legs from the jump and I feel great.''
That wasn't always the case in 2014 and toward the end of the season, Hamilton began to slow because of a sore hamstring.
With Hamilton unable to gain the separation and yards after the catch that made him so dangerous for the first half of the season, Penn State's passing game bogged down.
Hamilton used the added break before the Pinstripe Bowl against Boston College to rest his legs and finished with seven catches for 51 yards and a touchdown. His versatility opened up the offense for his teammates, Hackenberg said.
Franklin and Gattis foresee a similar start for Hamilton when Penn State opens its season against Temple on Sept. 5. And they're betting their top wideout's skills and work ethic will have rubbed off on his younger teammates by then. He's quick to pass on what he learns, they said.
''He's mature. He's smart. He's disciplined,'' Franklin said. ''I think he was really hungry after sitting out the previous, basically six months.''