DaeSean Hamilton was embraced at the 20-yard line by Penn State great Derrick Williams, who brought the fellow wideout close and congratulated him after the game on making history.
“Thank you,” Hamilton replied with a smile. “Thank you.”
Penn State’s new career leader in receptions continued his slow walk to the tunnel after the final whistle, savoring every moment.
Wide receivers coach Josh Gattis greeted Hamilton at the 15-yard line with a hearty hug before putting his left arm around No. 5’s shoulders and walking with him. Penn State athletic director Sandy Barbour gave Hamilton a high-five as he crossed into the end zone, and the student section at Beaver Stadium cheered on the redshirt senior on the momentous afternoon.
After making it through the tunnel, Hamilton was paraded around to the remaining Penn State fans by James Franklin. Hamilton — who passed Deon Butler (179 catches) on the all-time list after making nine grabs for 122 yards and three touchdowns — waved his right hand and smiled like a king paraded through town.
After making his 181st career catch, it was DaeSean’s day.
“It means a lot,” Hamilton said, crowded by a horde of 20 reporters. “It hasn’t hit me yet, but it’ll hit me later on.”
Added quarterback Trace McSorley: “That dude, he’s put in so much work in his whole career. He’s had ups and downs ... but he’s continued to step up.” Saturday, during Penn State’s 45-14 romp over Indiana, was no exception.
Entering Week 5 without a groove — 11 catches through the first four games — Hamilton found one real quick. He had three receptions in the first quarter alone, including an eight-yard touchdown to put Penn State ahead 28-0.
With another catch in the second quarter, Hamilton was four away from 180 at the break. Passing Butler against Indiana became a legitimate possibility.
It became pretty much a lock in the third quarter, when Hamilton opened with a couple receptions and later nabbed a 24-yard touchdown to pull even with Butler’s mark.
Of course, there was drama surrounding Hamilton’s record-tying grab — where he separated from Indiana cornerback Jonathan Crawford and secured McSorley’s dime falling backward into the north end zone. When Hamilton got up and waved the ball above his head, he saw a yellow flag just a couple yards away.
“I was sweating bullets,” Hamilton said. He was concerned the officials were going to call offensive pass interference. But the referee picked up the flag, and Hamilton’s graceful score stood.
The captain was one catch away.
Two drives later in the middle of the fourth quarter, Hamilton ran a 25-yard out-and-up. McSorley lofted the ball to him, and Hamilton — reminiscent of his breathtaking catch in the Big Ten title game — went up and took it. Leaping in front of Crawford and over defensive back Ben Bach, Hamilton brought in the acrobatic, record-breaker along Indiana’s sideline.
The wideout fell on his back, somersaulted to his feet and jogged to the new line of scrimmage. He slapped hands with offensive linemen Steven Gonzalez and Ryan Bates as he went by and peered to the Penn State bench.
“Hammy was looking over to the sidelines for the next play,” McSorley said with a smile. “It was an awesome moment, but that’s kind of the cool thing. ... That’s what he was looking forward to.”
The crowd celebrated on his behalf. Some waved their blue and white pom-poms, while others put them in their back pocket to clap.
As the record was announced over the PA system, Hamilton’s teammates on the sidelines praised him, too.
“It was like everyone else’s (celebration) when the whole stadium were applauding and being happy for him,” safety Marcus Allen said. “That’s how we were, but it meant a lot more for us because we know how hard Hammy’s been working.”
Added defensive tackle Parker Cothren: “We came in together five years ago together, and he works harder than anyone I’ve ever seen. I’m proud of him.”
The Nittany Lions knew what Hamilton went through to get reach that moment.
Instead of playing right away in 2013, the Virginia native was forced to redshirt with a nagging wrist injury. His parents talked at length about what a trying time that was for him, staying motivated in the face of injury and adversity.
Hamilton rebounded with a record-setting first season, leading the Big Ten with 82 catches. But the past couple seasons haven’t been quite the same. Hamilton tallied 45 and 34 receptions in 2015 and 2016, respectively, and dropped a sure-fire touchdown at Pitt last season that haunted him for weeks.
But as Franklin said after the game, Hamilton stayed positive. He worked through it all, and it resulted in a night that won’t ever be erased from the wideout’s memory.
It’ll be in the Penn State record books for quite some time, too.
“It’s really special. ... It seems like it’s taken forever to get here honestly,” Hamilton said with a grin. “I’ll cherish it.”