Heart of a Warrior: Hamilton gives his all on both sides of the ball
STEPHENS CITY — One glance at Salem’s 6-foot-5, 285-pound offensive tackle Alex Light and 6-2, 320-pound guard Thomas Mitchem gives you a pretty good idea as to how the Spartans were able to average 306 rushing yards and 430 total yards per game coming into Saturday’s 4A North Region final against Sherando.
The Warriors weren’t daunted by the prospect of going up against them, though. Not when they have one of those classic “it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog” guys in 6-0, 245-pound defensive tackle and tight end Tyler Hamilton.
“He’s got one of the biggest hearts of any kid that I’ve ever coached,” Sherando defensive coordinator T.J. Rohrbaugh said. “It’s one of those things where you’re going to be taking [Mitchem] head on and then [Light] is going to be blocking down on you. That’s a tough assignment for any kid.
“But we put him there because we know how big his heart is, and he’s never going to quit. There were times in that game where they’d lock up and double team him and put him into the ground, but he would get back up for the next play and he would make the next play. He keeps comin’ and comin’ and comin’, and it takes a special kid to do something like that.”
Salem finished with 199 total yards, 94 rushing yards, and was shut out for the first time all year.
Hamilton’s been pretty special on both sides of the ball this year. The first-team All-Northwestern District selection on defense has made 75 tackles, including 16 for loss, and a team-high 3.5 sacks, and he was a second-team all-district selection on offense. Hamilton will try and help Sherando (13-1) win its first state title when it takes on Dinwiddie (14-0) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Liberty University in Lynchburg in the Group 4A state championship game.
As beneficial as it is for Sherando when Hamilton does something that goes on the stat sheet (he also has three catches for 54 yards), a lot of his value comes in the things he does that result in stats for his teammates.
As long as Hamilton is springing running backs for big gains with his blocks or occupying behemoths like Light and Mitchem so the linebackers can come up from behind and make tackles, he’s doing his job. And it’s one that gives him great satisfaction.
“Those one-on-one battles between two people on a play, I love that,” Hamilton said. “It’s all about the heart and the passion.”
And make no mistake, it’s also about his skill. Anyone who’s ever seen him wrestle knows he has an impressive combination of strength, agility, quick hands and quick feet (Hamilton placed seventh in Group AA at 195 pounds as a junior after playing at 220 pounds during the football season), and it’s those traits that have helped make him so effective in his first year at defensive tackle.
Hamilton had always been a defensive end since he first started playing football in seventh grade, and he earned second-team all-district honors last year (32 tackles, three sacks) at that position as a junior.
With Brogan McPartland transferring from Handley to play end, a Sherando team that lost its other three starting defensive linemen from a year ago decided to move Hamilton inside to tackle, where they felt his quickness, athleticism and strength would be difficult for most teams to handle.
McPartland suffered a season-ending injury in the season opener, but Sherando felt Hamilton’s value inside was too great to move back to end. As evidenced by the season that Sherando has had — the Warriors are allowing just 12 points and 200.2 yards per game — it was the right call.
Hamilton said it really hasn’t been much of an adjustment moving inside. At first, it was a bit of an adjustment playing with so many new players — fellow defensive line starters Matt Van Shufflin, Ben Avery and Kyle Warren are all first-year varsity players — but he’s been impressed with how the group has developed this year with the help of head coach Bill Hall (who coaches the defensive ends) and Tim Farris (who coaches the defensive tackles).
“I think the repetition has really helped in everything we do,” Hamilton said.
Both Hall and Rohrbaugh each said Hamilton has done an excellent job of setting a good example for his teammates all year, but they’ve really seen him take it to a higher level in the playoffs.
“I’ve seen him focus more on making sure everyone else is on point doing their job every single play,” Hall said.
“This run that we’re on right now means a lot to him,” Rohrbaugh said. “You can see it in his eyes, you can see it in the way he practices, and you can definitely see it in the effort he puts forth out there on the field.”
Sherando quarterback and safety Reid Entsminger said Hamilton definitely has a lighter side on the field. Hamilton, who admittedly isn’t the best at securing passes when they hit his hands, never fails to smile and show his pleasure when he actually does catch a ball in practice or in games, and that always gets Hall and the rest of the team to laugh.
But nothing stands out more than that passion to succeed and never back down.
Wrestling fans saw it at the state tournament last year when Hamilton held on for a 6-2 win in the seventh-place match despite a shoulder injury that clearly had him in pain in the third period, and Rohrbaugh saw that same type of determination Saturday going up against Salem’s Light — who has scholarship offers from Richmond and the Virginia Military Institute — and Mitchem.
“You put 99 out of 100 kids in that position, and at some point they’re going to want to stop coming, and they’re going to start turtling up inside there,” Rohrbaugh said. “There wasn’t one snap where he didn’t accept the challenge and play the position the way he’s supposed to play and give everything that he had.”
Hamilton said he’s just trying to “embrace the moment and live in the moment,” just like Hall tells all his players to do, and Saturday’s challenge was right up his alley.
“Coach Rohrbaugh came up to me after the game and said, ‘I don’t think we could have won this game without you there.’ He really believed in me, and I respect that,” said Hamilton, who finished with eight tackles and half a sack. “I really took [my assignment] to heart.
“It was a physical game, and I thought the team that was more physical would win the game, and we came out on top. I think we showed a lot of heart. I think that’s what’s great about this team. Everybody has so much heart and wants it so bad.”
There’s nothing he wants more than a state title.
“I just want to win, do our job, dominate with physicality, you name it,” Hamilton said. “I just want to do it all and come out on top.”
— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow on Twitter @WinStarSports1