ATLANTA — Joe Hamilton sat on top of a folding table in the lobby of Georgia Tech’s football facility, wearing a loose Yellow Jackets’ long sleeve T-shirt and shorts, a marker dangling from a rope around his neck.
On a wall behind him, SportsCenter played on a flatscreen TV and Hamilton discussed the latest troubles to hit Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and the Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez as the talking heads offered their takes.
Hamilton knows of transgressions — and he also knows of second chances. Five years after the homecoming of the Yellow Jackets legend was derailed, he’s not taking anything for granted this time around.
“I’m just giving it my all,” he said. “(I’m) very, very grateful.”
Runner-up to Ron Dayne in the 1999 Heisman Trophy voting, Hamilton set ACC records for total offense (10,640 yards), touchdown passes (65) and total TDs (83) the former quarterback was hired by Paul Johnson as assistant director of player personnel upon his arrival on campus in 2008. But less than two weeks after taking the job, Hamilton tendered his resignation when he was charged with driving under the influence, possession of marijuana, open container and hit and run following an arrest by Georgia Tech police.
For nearly two years he worked at quarterback camps and with youth groups before joining up with another Georgia Tech alum, Bill Curry at upstart Georgia State, located just under a mile and a half from the campus where Hamilton made his name.
He worked as a recruiting intern in 2010 before being promoted to running backs coach in 2011, a spot he held for two seasons. But Hamilton was without a job after Curry retired.
Five years to the day that he resigned, Hamilton would find redemption on the Flats as Johnson brought him back as an assistant to the director of player personnel. His responsibilities include unofficial visits, talking to parents and dealing with the players already on the roster.
“When you give you get back,” Hamilton said. “When I was here, even when I left, I’m a diehard gold and black Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket. No doubt about it. It’s just somewhat surreal to be back in a place that you played (at) and that you loved so much and give back in so many different ways.”
On this day, that also includes coaching the wide receivers.
With position coach Al Preston hospitalized with a bacteria-related ailment, NCAA rules permit Georgia Tech moving another staff member into a coaching role on an interim basis. That has Hamilton leading the receivers until Preston can return. With continued improvement he could be back in camp by week’s end.
“I see myself as a utility guy,” Hamilton said. “Somebody says they need somebody to step in and bring the water cooler down to practice, I step in and do that.”
Having been a quarterback, he believes it gives him an intricate feel of what a pass-catcher needs to do, though the biggest task for him lies in not taking the players too far out of what they typically do under Preston.
“This ain’t spring ball. You can try and reinvent the wheel and try new drills, but man, we about to play ball,” Hamilton said. “So you don’t want when coach Preston comes back that I’ve been telling them something totally different than what he’s going to tell them.”
Hamilton’s impact on the team goes well beyond stepping in where needed. It also stretches into the realm of mentoring, something redshirt sophomore QB Vad Lee has taken advantage of.
In the midst of a QB competition with redshirt freeman Justin Thomas, Lee has spent time in Hamilton’s office, getting advice from the former consensus All-American.
“That’s big time,” Lee said. “Joe Hamilton knows what he’s talking about. … I stay in the back of his back pocket, trying to pick his brain and understand things. He’s a positive influence on everybody and just a positive voice to be out there.”