Penn State was sitting on a lead against Indiana on Saturday in the fourth quarter, but still needed to put more points on the board before getting terribly comfortable. On a key third down, Trace McSorley heaved the ball downfield to find DaeSean Hamilton in coverage down the sideline. Like he had already done several times throughout the afternoon, Hamilton made an incredible adjustment on the ball in the air to haul in a 25 yard reception that helped keep the chains moving to allow Penn State to score later in the drive that all but guaranteed a victory.
As soon as the official confirmed Hamilton’s reception, a thought popped in my head- “I wonder how close Hamilton is to breaking the career receptions record?” Before I could even complete my thought, the PA announcer come on to notify the crowd that Hamilton now had more receptions than any other player in Penn State history.
It’s been a long and interesting for Hamilton’s climb to the top.
Hamilton committed to play for Bill O’Brien as part of the 2013 recruiting class. Despite the prospect of never playing in a bowl game for a team severely hindered by scholarship restrictions, he never wavered in his desire to play for the Nittany Lions.
After sitting out for a redshirt season, Hamilton immediately raised eyebrows during a phenomenal performance in his first game in a Penn State uniform. In a thrilling last-second victory against Central Florida in Ireland, Hamilton hauled in 11 passes for 165 yards. He made an immediate impression as Penn State’s go-to receiver, following in the footsteps of Allen Robinson. Despite struggles of the offense that season, Hamilton never let up. As a redshirt freshman, he led the Big Ten in receptions with 82, for 899 receiving yards and two touchdowns.
As an inexperienced offensive line floundered, Hamilton was the one sure thing for the Nittany Lions offense that season. Even with opposing defenses knowing he was the prime target, Hamilton always found a way to get open and make the play. He saved his best game for Penn State’s most difficult opponent, the eventual national champion Ohio State Buckeyes. Again and again, Hamilton made plays that helped Penn State nearly pull off a massive upset, catching 14 passes for 126 yards before the Buckeyes eventually won in double overtime.
Hamilton would see his production dip as a redshirt sophomore, as Chris Godwin developed into the number one receiver for the Nittany Lions. He was still a crucial part of the offense, finishing the season with 45 catches for 580 yards while tripling his touchdown receptions from the previous year.
His junior campaign was even more unkind to him. Always known for his sure-handedness and ability to get open, his hands suddenly began to deceive him. There was the now infamous drop against Pitt that could have been the go-ahead touchdown late in the game. More drops followed, as Hamilton seemed to develop a case of the yips. He also didn’t seem to have the same chemistry with Trace McSorley as he once had with Christian Hackenberg. It was as though the former Big Ten receptions leader was in danger of becoming the forgotten component of Penn State’s suddenly high-flying offense.
But Hamilton stuck to what always worked for him in the past- keeping his head down and continuing to be one of the hardest workers on the team. He would go on to have a redemption game to help Penn State win the Big Ten Championship in a dramatic comeback victory against Wisconsin, where he finished with eight receptions for 118 yards.
As he approached his senior season, Hamilton received non-stop praise from coaches and teammates as he prepared for his final season as a Nittany Lion. He became a leader for a young and talented group of receivers who seem on the verge of greatness, but still needed some help learning the ropes before succeeding at the next level. Hamilton happily took on the role, and was named as a team captain heading into the season.
Hamilton has been his old reliable self as a senior, making key plays to help propel Penn State to a 5-0 start and #4 ranking. Against Indiana, he showed off those tremendous hands with several spectacular catches despite tight coverage. At this point it seems clear that he is the man McSorley will be looking for when the Nittany Lions need to make something happen.
While he is now the all-time receptions leader, Hamilton’s story at Penn State is far, far from over. Should the Nittany Lions meet the lofty expectations that are now thrust upon them, Hamilton will be a big part of making it happen.
Keep making us proud, DaeSean.