Our Eric Edholm spoke with Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton. Their conversation, which first appeared in our daily draft newsletter on Wednesday, is below. Subscribe for free to our draft newsletter and get exclusive draft content delivered to your inbox bright and early every weekday morning.
You don’t have to scroll too far down the list of all-time Penn State receiving leaders to find the name DaeSean Hamilton — more than once, in fact.
He’s the Nittany Lions’ all-time leader in receptions with 214. He ranks No. 2 on Penn State’s all-time receiving yardage list (2,842), behind only Bobby Engram. And Hamilton caught at least one pass in 51 of his 53 college games, including a streak of 34 straight that was broken late in the 2016 season.
And yet Hamilton might not be considered a household name except around the Penn State campus or among hardcore college football fans. But perhaps that is changing. With a strong senior season and a productive postseason as he preps for the NFL draft in April, Hamilton has put his best foot forward at multiple venues — at the East-West Shrine Game, then the Senior Bowl, followed by strong performances at the NFL scouting combine and his pro day.
We caught up with Hamilton, who figures to be a mid-round selection, during his busy schedule. He spoke with Pro Football Weekly about being a mentor for his autistic brother, Hamilton’s memorable first and last college games, his improved 40-yard dash time, the NFL receivers he tries to mimic and absolutely unacceptable pizza toppings.
Hamilton exploded on the scene as a redshirt freshman for the Nittany Lions, following a 2013 season lost to a wrist injury. He received honorable mention All-Big Ten notice (coaches) after starting all 13 games and leading the conference with 82 receptions (889 yards, two touchdowns).
League media made him an honorable mention pick the following year, as he started 12 of 13 games, accumulating 45 receptions for 580 yards and six scores (5-71, touchdown vs Georgia in the Sugar Bowl). Hamilton was again a regular starter in 2016 (13 of 14 games) but had career lows in all categories (34-506, one touchdown) despite an excellent performance against Wisconsin the Big Ten Championship Game (8-118). Hamilton had more production as a senior, garnering second-team All-Big Ten honors from coaches after catching 53 passes for 857 yards and nine touchdowns.
Four-year starter and one of the team leaders who helped to turn Penn State's fortunes around. Big slot who lacks shiftiness from the slot, but is able to uncover with disciplined, consistent routes. Much like his athletic ability, his production was solid, but nothing special. While his size is a bonus for teams who like big-bodies in the slot, how he runs and tests could go a long way into if and when he gets drafted. He could land on the back end of the roster, but it needs to be the right team.
PFW: I’d imagine you had a pretty interesting childhood as the son of two military parents.
DH: Yes, I moved around quite a bit. I was born in Okinawa, Japan. Both my parents were in the Marines Corps for 20-plus years, so that’s the lifestyle. We moved around quite a bit, then landed in Virginia when I was in fourth grade, I believe. And that’s where I lived and played my high school football and all of that. I got used to moving around, but we settled there and my parents liked it there. They were stationed in Quantico, Virginia. It was a good spot for us.
PFW: I’ve read about your role in your brother Darius’ life. I understand that he suffers from nonverbal autism and that you really stepped up to help him — especially when your mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Can you tell us about him and growing up with him?
DH: My parents were busy and going through a lot and they needed someone to help take care of my brother when they weren’t available. So I took on that role at a young age. Helped get him ready for school in the morning. Get him fed. Teach him to tie his shoes, brush his teeth. All the little things.
PFW: And I heard you used your elective period as an eighth-grader to help Darius in his special-needs class.
DH: Yes, sir.
PFW: And that once during a Pop Warner game, Darius ran onto the field to get help from you.
DH: It was in the middle of a game. My parents took my eyes off him for a second. And he just ran out there on the field. It actually felt pretty good that he would come to me like that.
Just being a primary caretaker when I was growing up. I took a lot of strength from that. And really, I carried that same mentality with me up until this point now.
PFW: When did football become important for you?
DH: I would say about 5 or 6 years old. My dad got me into it. It just came really naturally to me. I started out at that age playing soccer and football and then those sports in Virginia were in the same season in the fall, so I had to pick one or the other. I picked football, and that’s when I really fell in love with it. It became even more natural to me, and I knew I picked the right sport.
PFW: Before you played a snap at Penn State, you suffered a wrist injury your freshman year and didn’t play. Beyond just rehab, how did you try to use your time to get better at football, tough as that must have been?
DH: I just went in and made sure I had my head in that playbook so I didn’t get behind mentally. Other guys were able to still be out there and practice, so I was pretty much limited to studying and working out my lower body only because of the wrist.
That’s really all it was every single day: learn the plays and prepare mentally, then go work out. It was almost a year and a half of that. But I did it just in case — or just so I wouldn’t be behind anyone when I did get my chance. I was behind that guys that were healthy, but I tried to do whatever I could.
PFW: Your first game was a memorable one. It was in Ireland against UCF and you ended up breaking the Penn State freshman record for receiving yards (165) and catches (11). That also ended up being your career high for yards in your first game, and you guys won in the final minute. What was that like all on one trip?
DH: It was really fun to go over there for my first college football game and then to win … that was a fun experience for the whole, entire team. My first taste of college football obviously went pretty well. That got me even more ready for it.
PFW: Fast forward to your final game — the Fiesta Bowl against Washington. You get your team on the board with at 48-yard touchdown and then you score your team’s final TD in a one-score victory. Would you say you capped your college career with one of your best performances?
DH: Obviously, it was a great game. But yeah, I would probably say that was one of my better games in my career. That was a [good way] to finish it off.
PFW: Are you overlooked a bit? I mean, you’ve broken all these records, helped revive a program that was down in the dumps, started for most of your time there, and yet I don’t hear you mentioned in the same breath as some less-accomplished players in college.
DH: I’d like to think so. A lot of that stuff is out of my control. I did put together a good career here. I also had a lot of fun doing it obviously. We accomplished a lot of things, team-wise and individually. So I don’t know if people did take notice of what I did or not. I have just tried to focus on the things that I can control and not worry about the rest of it.
PFW: Proudest moment at PSU? Your biggest regret from college?
DH: I don’t really have a biggest regret. The things that happened, they happened for a reason. Of course you wish you won every game or caught every pass, but it’s not always going to be like that. But my proudest moment had to be winning the Big Ten championship. That was a lot of fun, and I’ll always cherish that.
PFW: OK, tell me something I don’t know about two of your teammates, Saquon Barkley and Trace McSorley?
DH: [laughs] There’s nothing that anyone doesn’t know about Saquon at this point. He’s a funny guy, so there’s that. But Trace … he’s just a winner. I think most people know that, but he just has the traits of a winner. It’s deep in him.
PFW: How was playing with him vs. with Christian Hackenberg? That’s two different styles of quarterback, and I’d have to imagine that playing with someone like McSorley — who can keep plays alive with his legs — changes your role as a receiver.
DH: Absolutely. The play is never over when you have him at quarterback. Obviously that’s true with Saquon and you have to do your job when he has the ball too because you never know. But with [McSorley], you’re just trying to work to get open and then be aware. He lets you make a play. If the ball is in his hands, he’s either going to get it into his playmakers’ hands or he’s going to do something with his legs, too, so it changes the dynamic.
PFW: What element of your game has improved the most over the course of your four years?
DH: I’d say honestly my blocking. I used to be a little … well, I used to struggle with it a bit. That was more me as a freshman. But as the years went on, that’s something I improved on and took pride in.
PFW: You’ve been pretty much non-stop since the end of the season. East-West Game one week, Senior Bowl the next, then the combine and your pro day along with the rest of the draft hoopla. Is this whole process more stressful and hectic than enjoyable at times?
DH: Yeah, it’s a little bit stressful, but at the same time it’s a good thing. I am doing it for my career. I’m enjoying going around and competing against different players, going in different environments and seeing different players from different conferences across the nation. Competing against them and … that’s just part of why it’s so fun. If you’re a competitor and you love what you do, this is why you’re doing it. I don’t really resent doing any of this, even if it seems [tedious] in the moment. If you can’t have fun with it, if you dread doing it, then why are you doing it?
PFW: You didn’t run the 40 at the combine, but you turned in times that ranged between 4.47 and 4.52 seconds at your pro day. Do you think you answered questions about your speed?
DH: That’s what I’ve tried to do along the way, just control what I can control and do the best I can. In the big picture, one [40-yard dash] is minuscule compared to what I want to accomplish. But yeah, I’d like to believe at the end of the day that I have done a lot but still have a lot to do. I have a month left [before the draft]. But I’d say, yeah, more upside has come out of this process.
PFW: You’ve been praised as a team leader and won leadership awards — the Captain's Award, Iron Lion Award, Lions Pride Outstanding Senior Award, and so on. How do you set such a high bar for your teammates?
DH: I don’t do it that vocally. It’s more of a lead-by-example type thing. I just try to do all the right things, on and off the field. I just try to give people someone to model [themselves] after. I try to lead by my actions more so than by words.
PFW: OK, let’s so some fun one here. Straight up — do you like the nickname “BaeSean?” Be honest.
DH: [laughs] Yeah, I’ve heard that for a couple years now. I don’t have a problem with that.
PFW: You did a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) recently and you picked Jarvis Landry, Julian Edelman, Doug Baldwin as three receivers whose styles you emulate. I sense a common theme here …
DH: I see a lot of things in all three of them, really. Let’s start with Doug Baldwin. He’s able to be creative in his route running. He can create separation by being quick and really knowing the routes he’s supposed to be running and knowing his stems and how to use leverage.
Jarvis Landry, he plays a lot faster than [his timed speed]. He plays like an animal when he’s out there, really. A lot tougher than the guys he faces. He works to get open.
Edelman is a mixture of them both. He obviously plays bigger than his size, but at the same time he’s got that quickness at that size. It’s just such a mismatch for the guys who are trying to cover him. He’s great in the slot, but he also can move outside and Tom Brady can find him that way as well.
Those are the three guys that I really like the most.
PFW: You also chose Chipotle as your restaurant of choice. Let’s say that’s closed for remodeling — where else you headed to grab a bite?
DH: Chipotle is closed, man. [laughs] I am going to … Popeye’s.
PFW: What’s your order there?
DH: I get the fried shrimp platter and then I get some chicken wings.
PFW: I like that. Surf and turf.
DH: Yeah, but the whole thing costs like $20. [laughs]
PFW: First big splurge after you sign a contract? Besides shrimp and wings, we mean …
DH: Probably jewelry. Nothing too obnoxious.
PFW: Rings, necklaces, earrings? What are we talking here?
DH: A necklace, and I might get some earrings. I’m not 100 percent sure yet.
PFW: Best class you took at Penn State?
DH: Hmm, from what I remember, I would probably say my Spanish class.
DH: It was easy for me. [laughs]
PFW: Makes sense. What kind of car do you drive?
DH: A Ford Fusion. Gray.
PFW: Pizza topping you absolutely refuse to eat?
DH: Honestly, anything other than your regular meats — sausage and all that. I don’t get into all that mushrooms and pineapple and stuff like that.
PFW: What’s the best NBA jersey to wear?
DH: I’d say the Utah Jazz jerseys, the newer ones.
PFW: Any specific player?
DH: Well, if we’re talking one player on any team, I’d say Russell Westbrook. Home, away, either one. Doesn’t matter.
PFW: Who did you have in your Final Four? Don’t you dare say Loyola.
DH: [laughs] I actually didn’t make a bracket this year. But if I was a betting man before the tournament, I would have said Michigan State, Kansas, UVA and … I guess Villanova.