Rutgers' fab freshman switches positions
Normally, when a freshman is asked to move to another position after his first week of preseason camp, it's not a positive endorsement on his progress.
But Darius Hamilton is not your typical first-year player. A consensus scholastic All-American out of Don Bosco Prep, a New Jersey high school power, Don Bosco Prep, Hamilton is arguably the highest-rated recruit ever to play for Rutgers.
And through his first week of camp, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound freshman has lived up to his billing. That's why first-year coach Kyle Flood felt compelled to move Hamilton from defensive end to the interior tackle spot he starred at in leading Don Bosco to a 35-0 record and three state championships in as many years.
''I had a talk with the defensive coaches and Coach Flood (Sunday) night and they felt it was probably best for me to play 3-technique (defensive tackle) because that's where I'm comfortable at,'' Hamilton said Monday. ''They said I picked up on end really well, but I played 3-technique all my life. So, it's not a big change at all.''
Picked to finish third in the Big East preseason poll, the Scarlet Knights are hoping to mix a highly touted freshman class - highlighted by Hamilton - with a group of 16 returning starters from a team that finished 9-4 last year.
''I don't put any expectations on the freshmen,'' said Flood, a longtime Rutgers assistant who took over for Greg Schiano in January. ''It's a different game against different-sized people, different speed, and they go from playing against high school players to playing against 22- and 23-year old men. So I don't put any expectation level on (Hamilton). We do think he's very talented. We do see him as someone who has an opportunity to help us early in his career. But how early that is, we'll find that out in training camp.''
Hamilton understands he will need to bulk up considerably to make an instant impact.
''Now that I'm inside, I definitely want to focus on getting a lot stronger,'' he said. ''I'm quick, but you know that's only going to get you so far, especially against some big guys.''
Fortunately for the 18-year old from West Paterson, N.J., he has the luxury of learning from a former NFL standout at the dinner table. Keith Hamilton, his father, spent 12 years in the NFL, all with the New York Giants, and is credited with developing his son into New Jersey's most heavily recruited prospect.
''When I first got the word (of the position switch), the first person I called was my dad,'' Hamilton said. ''We were both excited about the change, and he said I can learn to play defensive end but he feels I belong there and so do I. We just had a good laugh about it.
''This is what I wanted, so now I have to work at it.''
A consensus five-star prospect, Hamilton committed to Rutgers hours after Flood was introduced as the Scarlet Knights coach on the eve of National Signing Day last Jan. 31. Flood replaced Greg Schiano, who left Rutgers for the NFL's Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
''Obviously, people are expecting me to come in here and do big things,'' Hamilton said. ''All of that five-star stuff goes out the window (now). This is a whole other level. This is a college. This is a whole different ballgame.''
For now, Flood is being cautious with Hamilton, who recorded 72 tackles and 21 sacks en route to an 11-0 Don Bosco finish last season.
''I think the most dangerous thing you could do to a young person - regardless of how highly touted they were - is to put undue expectations,'' Flood said. ''Certainly, Darius comes here with a lot of fanfare, and we're really excited about what he's going to do for our program, but I don't have a timeline.''
With eight returning starters on a defense that's being billed as perhaps the best in the Big East, Flood can afford to let Hamilton progress at his own pace. Ahead of Hamilton on Rutgers' depth chart is Scott Vallone, a fifth-year senior who leads all Big East players with 38 career starts.
''I'm really excited to learn from (Vallone),'' Hamilton said. ''I don't have all of the answers, even though some people see me as a guy who can come in and play right away. I just want to tell all of those people that I'm working. I'm getting better every day. And whatever happens, happens.
''But I'm going to go out and give it my all.''