Like his Penn State teammates, DaeSean Hamilton has a lot of time on his hands this holiday week with no classes, which allows him to put in more work preparing for Saturday’s game at Maryland, the final contest of the regular season.
All that idle time could lead to daydreaming, with Hamilton looking back on his five years as a key part of the program. He holds the No. 2 position on the Nittany Lions’ all-time list in receptions for a single season with 82, which he achieved in his redshirt freshman season. He is the only Lion to catch as many as 200 passes, now standing at 204 for his career.
He could leaf through those memories, but he’s not. The Terrapins are on his mind.
“I don’t really think about that aspect,” Hamilton said Tuesday. “It pops into my head all the time I’ve been here since my days here are dwindling down. But I’m not necessarily spending time dwelling on the past. It’s really just focusing on Maryland, preparing for the game, doing the things I would normally do every week.”
It’s been a season of redemption for Hamilton, who followed his 82-catch season with 45 in 2015 and 34 last season. He has 43 this year, leading the team in receiving yards with 688 and average at 16.0 yards per catch. He is tied with Mike Gesicki at seven touchdown receptions, most on the team.
The 6-foot-1, 206-pounder said it was a matter of a flood of talent coming on to the team after his freshman year, which meant fewer passes were coming in his direction because of the balance. Actually, this year, Hamilton is among four Lions who have caught between 42 and 46 passes.
“Really, the ball couldn’t go into one place any more like it did my freshman year,” he said. “We had so many different weapons on offense … that’s really what it all came down to.
“But then it was finally basically finding my groove back this year, really just me putting the past issues behind me, really just knowing the type of player that I am and getting back to what I do — being confident like I was in my freshman year.”
In addition, Hamilton, the son of parents who both served in the U.S. Marines, came in as a strong leader. The timing couldn’t have been better; his first game as a Nittany Lion in 2014 also was James Franklin’s first as head coach, and the team has grown and enjoyed success together.
“All of us growing together is really what started the whole chemistry building and started to make our team a lot stronger because of all of us being around each other for so long and going through the same experiences,” he said. “I was just trying to be a team leader when I first got to college and then carrying that same role to my senior year, obviously passing that same type of wisdom and encouragement down to the younger guys.”
So nearly five years after he committed to then-head coach Bill O’Brien with sanctions hanging over the program, Hamilton has achieved goals with the team that he could not have imagined.
“At that time, if you had told me we would go to the Rose Bowl and come close to making the College Football Playoffs and being a top-10 team two years in a row, I honestly would have thought you were crazy,” he said. “But that’s basically how things have played out. It’s really cool to see.”
But those are memories for another day. Maryland is foremost on his mind, as is getting a 10th regular-season win for the second straight year, and breaking a two-game losing streak in road games.