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Former NHS standout enjoying success at La.-Lafayette

Louisiana-Lafayette defensive lineman Justin Hamilton, left, barrels down on Lamar University quarterback Ryan Mossakowski during their game Sept. 1. Hamilton, a Natchez High School alumnus, and the Ragin‘ Cajuns will take on East Carolina Saturday in the New Orleans Bowl. (Photo courtesy of the University of Louisiana-Lafayette)

LAFAYETTE, La. — It may be the second year in a row Justin Hamilton will play in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, but Saturday’s game will also be a first for Hamilton and the Louisiana-Lafayette football team.

Hamilton, a Natchez High School alumnus and current starting defensive lineman for the Ragin‘ Cajuns, said his team’s second consecutive postseason berth is the first in school history.

“It feels good to be a part of that,” Hamilton said. “We had some guys banged up (during the year), but we fought through it and came out 8-4.”

Last December, the Ragin‘ Cajuns topped San Diego State 32-30 in the New Orleans Bowl, and Hamilton said his team would be going against another formidable team in East Carolina.

“They have a pretty good team with a lot of playmakers,” Hamilton said. “We have some guys that make plays as well. They’re going to try to make a few plays, and we’re going to have to stop him.”

Under head coach Mark Hudspeth, the Ragin‘ Cajuns are 17-8 in two seasons, and Hamilton said Hudspeth, a Delta State alumnus, is someone for whom he enjoys playing.

“Coach Hud is a really good guy, and he’s always very enthused,” Hamilton said. “He’s always got a lot of juice and energy, and he tries to find ways to motivate us and make us want to be here, and not make it so boring.”

Hamilton said he doesn’t find football boring personally, but there are times when all the practices can begin to wear on him and his teammates.

“It just gets old, but at the end of the day, you realize why you love the game so much and never get tired of it,” Hamilton said.

As a full-time starter, Hamilton finished the regular season with 16 solo tackles, nine assists and three sacks. He also had three forced fumbles, which tied for second in the Sun Belt conference. But Hamilton said his primary job on defense was to draw double teams and free up his teammates at linebacker.

“Most of the time I wasn’t individually making plays, but when I had the chance, I took advantage,” Hamilton said.

And Hamilton said he doesn’t mind helping his teammates out.

“Whatever it takes to get the job done,” Hamilton said. “If it takes two guys to block me, it means the linebackers are running free,” Hamilton said. “If the play is made, I got the job done.”

Two of the Ragin‘ Cajuns’ losses this season came to Oklahoma State and Florida. Louisiana-Lafayette actually gave Florida a tough time before the Gators pulled it out 27-20 in their game Nov. 10.

“In that game, the defense came out and had a really good game,” Hamilton said. “The defensive line had one of its best games of the season. We kept pressure on the quarterback and got him out of the pocket and made him make bad decisions.

“We all came ready to play and went toe to toe with them and almost beat them. We were supposed to beat them, and should have beat them.”

While Florida and Oklahoma State are much bigger schools than Louisiana-Lafayette, Hamilton said there’s no intimidation in playing them.

“To me, it’s just another football game,” Hamilton said. “They go out there and put on their pads one leg at a time just like I do. It’s just a matter of who’s the better man that day.”

With the regular season over, Hamilton said he’s looking forward to another trip to the Superdome.

“Playing in the Superdome is an incredible feeling,” Hamilton said. “Sitting there, with all the lights on you and the crowd screaming, it’s something you won’t forget in your lifetime.”

Hamilton also said he was glad to hear his Bulldogs had a strong season, especially since some of his former teammates are still playing at NHS.

“Some of the younger guys I played with, I was a senior when they were freshmen,” Hamilton said. “They may have looked up to me, so for them to do good things, it makes me happy.”

Hamilton is the son of Michael and Clementine Hamilton.