Senior captain returns home for Rutgers
From the moment he pledged his verbal commitment years ago on Jan. 31, 2012, Darius Hamilton’s loyalty to the Rutgers football program has never wavered.
Adversity is nothing new to the homegrown Jersey boy from West Paterson. Back when Greg Schiano stepped down from the helm at Rutgers and bolted for the NFL to accept the head-coaching gig with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Jan. 26, 2012, panic poured into Piscataway.
With signing day around the corner, a star-studded Scarlet Knights recruiting class that ranked in the top 20 on various recruiting sites suddenly spiraled in jeopardy.
Hamilton, the consensus No. 1 recruit in New Jersey and No. 2 defensive end out of national powerhouse Don Bosco Prep, could have continued that trend at the next level with offers from programs all over country. Instead, he stayed true to his heart and stayed home.
Fast-forward roughly four years later and Hamilton, now a senior captain and converted defensive tackle, watches his journey finally begin to wind its way down.
“It flew by. It flew by,” Hamilton told the Targum at media day Aug. 16. “I’ve had some great times, some of the best times of my life here on that field out there, in away games. I built some friendships here that I’ll take with me forever wherever I go, so I’m very thankful for the opportunity to have been a Scarlet Knight.”
Sidelined since the summer with an unspecified lower body injury, Hamilton’s status for his senior season went into question when he hadn’t practiced for over a month.
Listed as out for the first two games of the season, he remained on the injury report last Monday to start last week’s game prep for Penn State. Barring a miracle, it looked like Hamilton would miss the Knights’ Big Ten opener with the Nittany Lions.
But hours before kickoff, he was upgraded to probable. And while the end result of a 28-3 catastrophe in front of 103,323 at Beaver Stadium didn’t help stop the bleeding from the lingering off-field turmoil, the return of Rutgers’ unquestioned leader to the gridiron was immeasurable to his team.
“I’ll tell you what, I was excited for Darius (Hamilton) to get back out and play,” interim head coach Norries Wilson said at last Saturday’s postgame presser. “He had been chomping at the bit to come out and play.”
The presence of a hungry Hamilton in his season debut, combined with the wisdom and motivation the two-time captain always brings as a proven leader, inspired the likes of sophomore defensive end Kemoko Turay.
“For (Hamilton) being there … and for me, going, working with him last year … I was very excited to play with him again,” Turay said. “It shows big courage for him to come out there and actually come in and to show that he really cares about the team and how bad he wanted to beat Penn State.”
Listed as questionable for this week when the Knights (0-2, 0-1) host Kansas (0-2) on Saturday at noon, how ready Hamilton is health-wise is unknown. When he met with the media on Monday, the 21-year-old sounded like an old man describing his aches and pains from the aftermath of his appearance at Penn State.
“Oh, I was hurting. I was hurting,” he said. “But, I mean, it’s football. You’re always going to be hurting. I think after every game I’ve woken up from I’ve been hurting.”
As outlandish as it may have seemed during training camp in August, redshirting the remainder of the 2015 season has been a serious discussion.
After rumors swirled around discussion boards and threads regarding a potential redshirt season, Hamilton confirmed the possibility earlier in the week. While he said he would make that decision with the coaching staff if or when necessary, Hamilton shared his perspective.
“I mean, it’s tough,” he said. “… Worse comes to worst, I’m here with people I came in with and get to enjoy football one last time for Rutgers.”
While the Jayhawks sputter into High Point Solutions Stadium after two ugly losses to open the season, a loss would do more than mark the fourth straight loss for Rutgers on its annual homecoming game.
Falling to 1-3 on the year would be nothing less than disastrous with a Big Ten gauntlet featuring the likes of No. 1 Ohio State, No. 2 Michigan State and No. 22 Wisconsin waiting in the distance.
As of right this very second, no one knows if Hamilton’s fist will grab the turf and crouch down into the three-point technique position to stare into the faces of the opposing offensive linemen in the trenches. Right now, that fate for Saturday and beyond is unclear — even to him.
But regardless of whether he straps in the pads or dresses in street clothes, the senior captain will be right there with his brothers when they take on the Jayhawks — no matter the circumstance.
“Every time I see these guys take the field, it’s hard. It’s hard to watch, especially from a leadership standpoint,” Hamilton said. “But I trust them. If I can’t be out there with them this week, then they’ll take care of business.”
For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @GarrettStepien and @TargumSports on Twitter.