2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Issue link: https://comanpub.uberflip.com/i/1264448

Contents of this Issue


Page 111 of 163

110 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW BY PATRICK ENGEL D errek Hamilton is careful to men- tion a disclaimer before he begins a phone interview one May evening. "I cleared it with Kyle," he said of his son, Notre Dame's freshman safety sensation in 2019. His policy is to ask Kyle permission to give interviews in which Kyle is the subject. "It's not my life," Derrek said. And Kyle has a halfhearted interest in attention and renown, even as the son of a retired basketball player and trainer who has been around pro athletes and their spoils his entire life. He is, after all, the kid who wears shoes even after holes are torn in them and told his mother, Jackie, he likes the look "because it's retro." Kyle Hamilton just wants to play football. He was 3 years old when he first asked, only to be told the minimum age for park district leagues was 6. He stored that in his memory and on his sixth birthday asked Jackie to sign him up. After ninth grade, he asked her for one more year when she suggested he stop playing and turn his full attention to basketball. Tulane had already offered him a basketball scholarship. One more season, turns out, illuminated his natural fluidity, instincts and a penchant for hard hitting. College coaches noticed. Two years later, he arrived at Notre Dame and shoehorned his way into the safety rota- tion despite the presence of two established starters and team captains. "They almost thought it was a matricu- lation process, you go play for your high school team," Jackie said of her sons' mind- set. "Never thought about not making the high school team. You make the team, you play high school and go play in college. After college, go to the league." Hamilton is stocked in self-efficacy, but wired with modesty. In the latter stages of his progression, though, the spotlight is in- escapable. After an ascent to top-75 recruit, Freshman All-American and perhaps Notre Dame's best NFL prospect regardless of class, attention is here to stay on an indefi- nite lease. In Notre Dame's first practice of 2019 fall camp, Hamilton intercepted three passes in 30 minutes. His first defensive snap in Notre Dame Stadium was a 34-yard interception return touchdown. He ended the season with 41 tackles, four interceptions, six passes bro- ken up and only seven catches allowed, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). Trying to contain him is like trying to throw a butterfly net on a shadow. He's omnipresent, an undying nuisance for offenses. "At 6-4, it's very unique to have the sud- denness and change of direction, which offers him incredible range and length as a pass defender," head coach Brian Kelly said last August. "I can't tell you I've seen a player who can change direction and carry himself with that kind of range on the back end." Hamilton is that good, even if he doesn't want or have to publicly admit it (and he won't). This is merely the next step in the progression, but he is allowed to be excited. "I think he acknowledges the position he's in, but also the work he has put in," said Hamilton's brother, Tyler, a former basket- ball player at Penn and William & Mary. "It's not something he has just been given." 'Make Someone Quit' Long before Jackie brought up the idea of giving up football, she fueled Kyle's love for it and unknowingly generated his first college "attention." Any trip to LSU for the Hamiltons was a family affair. Jackie's longtime friend Sha- ron Lewis has been the program's recruiting coordinator since 2002, and when she took Tyler to LSU's youth football camp one year, 5-year-old Kyle tagged along even though he was two years shy of the minimum age. Lewis said forget it and suggested Jackie embellish Kyle's age. At the end of the camp, then-LSU of- fensive coordinator J i m b o F i s h e r a p - proached Jackie to ask about her son. He has a really good arm, Fisher said. Jackie told him Tyler was 9. Wrong answer, ap- parently. "Jimbo says, 'No not that one, the little one. I know he's not 7,'" Jackie recalled. "I said he's 5. Jimbo said not to worry about it because his 5-year-old was out here also." Hamilton played quarterback through his freshman year at Marist High School in sub- urban Atlanta, but he felt something missing when he played offense. He couldn't hit. He enjoyed football because of the contact. It didn't matter that his team lost every game his first year playing rec league. He was en- thralled because he could dish out smackings. "Like the whole stands go, 'Ooohhh' kind of hit," Jackie said. "When he was 6, a kid came off crying and said he didn't want to play anymore. Since then, he was like, 'I'm going to make somebody quit today.' This is a 6-year-old saying that." In one instance, Hamilton sent an unsus- pecting soul into a fence, where he remained stuck for a minute or two. But it was nearly 10 feet from contact to fence, Tyler esti- mated. One of many. "They eventually wouldn't let him hit in the park leagues because kids were quitting," Derrek said. Elsewhere, though, he developed the smarts and coverage skills that now appear so naturally developed. His age 7 youth THE NEXT BIG THING Sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton's freshman year has Notre Dame eagerly awaiting his encore "He just wants to be around the ball. His confidence in himself and his overall abilities as an athlete help him do a lot of things very well." HAMILTON'S HIGH SCHOOL COACH, ALAN CHADWICK, ON HAMILTON'S INSTINCTS AND PLAYING STYLE Despite a part-time role as a true freshman last season, Hamilton finished first on the team in in- terceptions (four), tied for second in passes bro- ken up (six) and seventh in tackles (41). PHOTO COURTESY FIGHTING IRISH MEDIA

Articles in this issue

view archives of 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview - Digital Edition