Hard work pays off for former NHS linemanPublished 12:01am Thursday, May 31, 2012
LAFAYETTE, La. — Since he arrived at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, Justin Hamilton has only been home to Natchez five times.
The longest he’s been home during those visits? Three weeks, at the start of the summer.
But since hard work and dedication is what allowed Hamilton to see significant playing time for the Ragin’ Cajuns last fall, the former Natchez High School nose tackle said he’s willing to make the sacrifice.
Hamilton is currently participating in voluntary summer workouts with the team, but even though they’re voluntary, Hamilton said it’s not really an option.
“You don’t have to come, but if you want to play and get a starting job, it would be best to come,” Hamilton said.
Under first-year head coach Mark Hudspeth, the Ragin’ Cajuns finished last season 9-4, with a 6-2 record in the Sun Belt Conference. Their record earned them a trip to the New Orleans Bowl Dec. 17, with Louisiana-Lafayette pulling out a 32-20 win against San Diego State.
Hamilton said last year’s season was something he never experienced, since he was getting a lot of playing time as a freshman. He only played one game as a freshman at NHS.
“I came in and worked hard that summer, and we played some big schools like Oklahoma State, and that was something that was big for me,” Hamilton said. “Winning the New Orleans Bowl to top it off, that was the highlight for me last year.”
The Ragin’ Cajuns played Oklahoma State in the opening game of the season, falling to the Cowboys 61-34. As the second-team nose tackle, Hamilton said he got to get playing time against a team that finished No. 3 in the country.
“For me to go up against that type of player and hold my own as a freshman, it felt pretty good,” Hamilton said. “It gave me momentum for the rest of my career.”
Being able to get playing time also gave him momentum, Hamilton said, because he was one of a few true freshman that consistently saw action the whole season.
“For me to be one of them was a big accomplishment for me,” Hamilton said. “They said they liked my size and my run-stopping ability, and that’s what they said they recruited me for.”
Ball pursuit and getting penetration in the backfield are two of the biggest keys in playing nose tackle, Hamilton said.
“You have to hold your gap and not miss your gap, that’s the biggest part,” Hamilton said. “I’m right over the center, and you want to be off the ball as soon as it moves, engaging him and knocking him backwards. If you let him get situated, it’s harder for you.”
At the same time, you have to make sure you’re not overeager and jump offsides, Hamilton added.
“When we jump offsides in practice, we have to do up-and-down (exercises) and things like that,” he said. “You have to be disciplined, because those 5 yards can cost you in the end.”
Hamilton said the biggest surprise about college was the fact that everyone else was just as big and just as strong as he is. In high school, Hamilton was used to being one of the fastest guys for his size.
“You have to come in and work hard in order to set yourself apart,” Hamilton said. “Everyone has athletic ability, you just have to have the mentality of, ‘I’m a dog, and ain’t nobody fixing to touch me.’”
Hamilton is studying kinesiology, P.E. and health, and is on track to graduate in four years. After college, Hamilton said he’d like to coach — perhaps alongside Lance Reed, his former head coach at NHS.
“That would be nice,” Hamilton said. “I talk to Coach Reed pretty often. He just tries to make sure I continue to get (good) grades and work hard on the field.”