CLEMSON - When Derrick Hamilton arrived on Clemson's campus in August 2000, the sky seemed to be the limit.
Signed by the Tigers out of Dillon High School, Hamilton seemed to have all the playmaker qualities head coach Tommy Bowden desired for his spread offense. Hamilton averaged 20.7 yards per reception as a prep senior, while returning eight kicks for touchdowns. A staggering eight more were called back on penalties.
The buzz phrase surrounding Hamilton was "impact player." Bowden was quoted as saying he expected Hamilton to play early, and wanted to see if he could make a difference in Clemson's kick return game. Clemson fans were giddy in their anticipation.
But fortune wasn't quick to smile on Hamilton.
Early in camp he developed a hamstring injury. Initially it was to keep him out a week. Then two. Then it appeared he'd be back in time for the season opener. Or maybe week two.
Instead, he was done for the year.
After missing so much practice time, Bowden and his staff decided to redshirt Hamilton, saving his eligibility and hoping he could come back in 2001 healthy and ready to perform.
Initially, Hamilton didn't take it well.
"When I first came in I wanted to play really bad," he said. "So when I got hurt it was very frustrating. Getting treatment early in the morning, trying to get to play...But I could never get right.
"I still wanted to play, but I finally realized it was better to redshirt."
Once the frustration subsided, Hamilton did what all determined athletes do when put in that situation:
He made the best of it.
Hamilton used the down time to familiarize himself with Bowden's playbook and terminology. Once finally cleared to practice, Hamilton immersed himself in learning the offense, picking up coverage tricks from Clemson's defense, and trying to pick up any little bit of knowledge he could obtain from the upperclassmen.
Needless to say, the willingness to work that hard as a redshirt has paid huge dividends on the field in 2001.
In a season that began with much hype surrounding the arrival of true freshmen Roscoe Crosby and Airese Currie, it's Hamilton who has stepped to the forefront. He leads Clemson receivers in both receptions (23) and yardage (233) through four games. Sixteen of the receptions have come in the last two games (Virginia and Georgia Tech).
More importantly, Hamilton has given the Tigers two things the passing game desperately needed - a threat over the middle, and elusiveness after the catch.
"I've gotten off to a pretty good start, and hopefully I can continue to do well," he said. "The ones who really knew me knew I could play, and the coaches also knew. I worked hard over the spring, just got better and (hope to) continue with the success."
The man in charge hopes the success continues, as well.
Though not quite ready to proclaim Hamilton a star, Bowden acknowledges his stock definitely is on the rise.
"He has all the tools to be a great one," Bowden said. "He has good hands, good speed, he's big and he's elusive. He's not Rod Gardner yet, but he's off to a pretty good start."
WEDNESDAY PRACTICE NOTES
- Freshman wide receiver Roscoe Crosby is not expected to make the trip to Raleigh for Saturday's game with N.C. State due to continued problems with his troublesome knee.
Crosby, who originally suffered a sprain and bone bruise in the knee in the season's second game against Wofford, reinjured the knee last Thursday during practice and has been limited to yellow jersey (injured, no work) status since.
Elswhere on the injury front, guard T.J. Watkins (knee), cornerback Kevin Johnson (broken rib) and defensive tackle Nick Eason (ankle) all are listed as questionable for Saturday. If Eason is unable to play, freshman Eric Coleman will be the likely starter against the Wolfpack. Coleman moved to defensive tackle from offensive tackle just over two weeks ago.
Toure Francis already has been named the starter at Johnson's corner spot.
- The choice of punters for Saturday apparently will come down to who kicks best in pregame, according to Bowden.
Tif Miller and incumbent starter Wynn Kopp are battling for the position, and it likely will come down to timing vs. distance: Miller's kicks this week have averaged 10 yards longer than Kopps, but his get-off time has averaged 2.2 seconds. Kopp's get-off time averages 1.9.
Kickoff chores will go to either Tony Lazzara or Aaron Hunt.