UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State senior DaeSean Hamilton set a Penn State record for career receptions Saturday while delivering his first multi-touchdown performance during a 45-14 win over Indiana at Beaver Stadium.
Shortly after torching the Hoosiers and etching his name into Nittany Lions annals, he admitted this accomplishment hadn’t sunk in yet.
His teammates and coaches, however, displayed plenty of emotion while discussing the Penn State captain’s path to 181 catches.
“I’m so proud of that guy. I’m so happy for that guy,” Nittany Lions running back Saquon Barkley said. “I know that wasn’t something he was focused on, but for him to obtain that record is amazing. … You guys aren’t seeing how hard he’s worked going through ups and downs.”
Hamilton’s five years in Happy Valley have featured roller-coaster comparisons.
His senior season at Mountain View (Stafford, Va.) High School ended early when he suffered a broken collarbone during a playoff game. Hamilton, who signed with former Penn State coach Bill O’Brien in 2013, was then relegated to the sideline with a redshirt as a freshman.
He debuted in a big way during James Franklin’s first year on campus. Hamilton led the Big Ten in receptions (82) as a redshirt freshman, setting the school’s single-game record for catches (14) against Ohio State that season.
Naturally, elevated expectations awaited him in 2015 as a redshirt sophomore, especially with veteran quarterback Christian Hackenberg behind center. However, it was Chris Godwin who emerged as Penn State’s primary target in the passing game.
Then a sophomore, Godwin caught 69 passes for 1,101 yards and 5 touchdowns. While Hamilton led the team with 6 scoring receptions, his overall production dipped, as he registered 45 catches for 580 yards in 12 games.
His share of action in the Nittany Lions aerial assault became further limited last year, when Hamilton managed only 26 receptions during the regular season. However, he served a reminder of his potential impact during the 2016 Big Ten Championship win over Wisconsin, catching 8 passes for 118 yards.
There were undoubtedly some frustrating stretches along the way, and Hamilton wasn’t even targeted in the Rose Bowl matchup with USC.
Things have been more consistent for him as a senior. He’s recorded at least 3 receptions in four of five games, headlined by a monster effort against Indiana. Hamilton snagged 9 passes for 122 yards and 3 scores, including a late touchdown toss from Barkley.
“That guy comes to work every single day, and I mean every single day,” Barkley said. “He doesn’t take a day off, he’s one of the last guys off the field and catches at least 100 to 200 balls a day. His routine is a great example that hard work pays off.”
Franklin echoed those sentiments during his postgame media conference, reviewing a collegiate journey for Hamilton that’s been arduous at times.
“He gets here as a true freshman, has a pre-existing injury, sits out his entire freshman year,” Franklin said. “One year he leads the Big Ten in catches, the next year his numbers go way down. He stays positive and just keeps working and grinding through it.”
Hamilton was the last player off the field at Beaver Stadium on Saturday. Franklin followed closely behind, encouraging the Penn State student section to shower his senior receiver with applause as they approached the tunnel.
“I’m really proud,” Franklin said. “I made a big deal about it in the locker room with the guys. I think he’s a great example for our younger players and a great example in general.”
— John McGonigal (@jmcgonigal9) September 30, 2017
Hamilton, who broke a record held by Deon Butler (179 receptions) since 2008, told reporters Saturday evening it may take the entire weekend for him to fully comprehend his achievement. Still, the journey required to reach this point wasn’t lost on him.
“It’s really special,” he said. “I’m really happy to have this record. I’ll cherish it. Then, it’s going to be like every game. You cherish the wins, you enjoy the wins, but then you get back to work.”
It’s a fitting outlook from Hamilton, who is routinely among the final players to depart Penn State practice sessions. He’s never been one to hang his hat on past successes.
“That’s a dude with a ton of work ethic; a perfectionist in his craft who is always doing things before and after practice,” Nittany Lions linebacker Jason Cabinda said. “It’s incredible. He doesn’t run out of juice. He knows the work he puts in pays off. That’s someone who really deserves that [record].”
Hamilton provided another example of his tunnel-vision approach Saturday. He tied the mark with a sensational 24-yard third-quarter touchdown reception from quarterback Trace McSorley, though Hamilton wasn’t aware of its added significance until someone told him — and the other 107,000 people in Beaver Stadium.
“I really wasn’t out there keeping track,” he said. “I was just trying to make plays whenever the ball came my way. When they said it over the loudspeaker, that’s when I realized it.”
— Penn State Football (@PennStateFball) October 1, 2017
Hamilton surpassed Butler on Penn State’s all-time receptions list with a 25-yard gain as the clock ticked under 10 minutes in the fourth quarter. His record-setting snag resulted in a standing ovation from an appreciative crowd.
Maybe Hamilton experienced some chills then, or even a brief moment of self-reflection. If he did, teammates couldn’t tell. It was business as usual for a program mainstay who leads by action more than outward expression.
“The crowd is cheering and guys were saluting or clapping it up, but Ham is looking over at the sideline for the next play,” McSorley said. “He wants to get the next play run. It’s an awesome moment but that’s kind of the cool thing. He just made Penn State history and he’s giving a couple high-fives, but he’s looking for the next call.”
Perhaps Hamilton will take eyes off the prize a bit longer when his final collegiate curtain call arrives, whether it occurs in a bowl game or a College Football Playoff matchup. For now, there’s work to be done.
With 20 catches for 331 yards and 4 scores through five contests, Hamilton is on pace to challenge his career-best total for single-season yards (899) and set a high for touchdown receptions (6). His average yards per catch this season (16.6) is nearly 2 yards greater than the personal-best he logged last year (14.9).
Hamilton is 710 receiving yards shy of the Penn State career record (3,026) held by 1994 Biletnikoff Award winner Bobby Engram. Considering the firepower of this Nittany Lions offense, it would be foolish to rule out the possibility of him leaving campus with another record in his possession.
“They’ve been playing football at Penn State for a long time and there’s been a bunch of good players, so whenever you can say that you’re the all-time leader at Penn State, that’s pretty special,” Franklin said.
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