Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton shrugs off numbers, prepares for final season

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Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton pulls in a pass during a clutch performance in the Big Ten title game against Wisconsin.

DaeSean Hamilton did not allow the lowest production numbers of his three years as one of Penn State’s starting wide receivers last season to diminish his confidence, and it hasn’t deterred him from standing out at his position in training camp.

A fifth-year senior, Hamilton is the veteran among wide receivers, a leader who is preparing to make his final season with the Nittany Lions a special one for himself and his team.

“It’s just being available for all of these guys,” Hamilton said earlier this month, “leading by example, playing very well and having great effort and never really showing any type of drop-offs or off days or bad days, and not letting guys see that. Really, once they see something like that, they think that it’ll be OK to do it. So it’s never taking a day off or slacking off or anything like that.”

The head coach has noticed. James Franklin said recently after a practice that Hamilton is “as polished and as productive of a wideout as I’ve been around in a camp setting. I think he’s going to have a huge year for us.”

That’s a major compliment when you consider that Franklin coached Chris Godwin, now of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, for three seasons at Penn State, and also had former Eagle Jordan Matthews when he was at Vanderbilt.

Hamilton immediately commanded the spotlight in his first game at Penn State, catching 11 passes for 165 yards against Central Florida in Ireland. He finished the season with 82 catches, the second-highest total in program history, for 899 yards and made the all-Big Ten second team.

The numbers weren’t quite as impressive the next two seasons. In 2016, Hamilton had career lows of 34 receptions and 506 yards. After catching eight passes in the second game against Pitt, when a dropped fourth-quarter pass hurt the Lions’ comeback effort, Hamilton managed just 16 catches in his next 10 contests, including the first catchless game of his career.

He never, however, considered himself the forgotten guy.

“Other people saw it that way,” he said. “I just saw it as everyone else stepping up and making plays throughout the whole season. I was just happy to be a part of it. I never really thought of it as ‘Woe is me, I’m not getting the ball’ or not as many opportunities coming my way.

“I always played my role and never really decided to feel bad for myself or anything like that. I never really took it that I was an afterthought. I took it day by day, worked the same way, kept the same routine, never changed anything that I did and just waited for my time to come.”

That time came in the Big Ten championship win over Wisconsin when Hamilton grabbed eight passes for 118 yards. Five of his receptions were for first downs, and two, for 63 yards, helped set up Penn State’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Hamilton, 22, learned discipline and responsibility at an early age. Both his parents served in the U.S. Marine Corps. His brother, Darius, was diagnosed with non-verbal autism as a toddler, prompting DaeSean to mature quickly. He learned sign language, helped his brother get ready for school and would drop in on his class during the day.

“It’s really strengthened me a lot,” said Hamilton, who is two years younger. “I’ve been really taking care of my brother since we were young. There would be days when it basically was me and him and I’d be taking care of him sunup to sundown. It really just changed my whole perspective on life. It obviously made me grow up a lot sooner than a young kid would expect to.”

“My brother humbles me. He’s really been my main reason for everything that I do.”

Hamilton needs 19 catches to break the program record of 179 career receptions set by Deon Butler from 2005 to 2008. He’s ready to help the Lions build on last season, and doesn’t care if opposing secondaries focus their attention on his teammates.

“Our offense is full of weapons, a lot of people that can make plays happen when the ball is in their hands,” he said. “It’s not really about who gets the ball more or who’s supposed to be No. 1, things like that. I just go out and do my role every single game.”