Don’t label KJ Hamler’s performance against Maryland as a “breakout” game.
The Penn State wideout may have caught six balls for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Terrapins — highlighted by a SportsCenter-worthy 58-yard score — but the redshirt sophomore said Wednesday night there was nothing special about that effort.
“I don’t think last game was a big game,” he told reporters after practice, ahead of Saturday’s noon clash with Purdue. “I think it was average. I don’t think reaching over 100-plus is a big game. I feel like there’s always something to improve on, and I think I still got a lot to prove.”
So what would constitute a big game in Hamler’s eyes? How many receiving yards?
“Three hundred,” Hamler said, without so much as a smile or laugh.
“All-purpose yards?” a reporter asked.
“Receiving,” Hamler clarified, deadpan. “I just set the bar high. I don’t think a lot of people do that.”
Hamler is one of the Big Ten’s top playmakers, a versatile receiver with reported 4.28 speed. He can line up wide, in the slot and in the backfield. He can catch, run and return. He’s a college football Renaissance man — and it takes a lot to impress him.
His definition of a big game — 300 receiving yards — is unprecedented in Penn State history. Deon Butler set the single-game school record of 216 yards in 2006; he’s the last Nittany Lion to surpass 200 yards. In the Big Ten, Michigan’s Jeremy Gallon holds the single-game record with a 14-catch, 369-yard effort against Indiana in 2013.
That’s No. 2 in NCAA history, behind the 405 yards from Louisiana Tech’s Troy Edwards in 1998.
“You got to get him the ball on offense,” running back Ricky Slade said about Hamler. “Our confidence in him on offense is extremely high.”
Hamler doesn’t mind setting his sights on the perfect game — because, even if he fails to reach it, he should still amass some pretty good ones along the way. He has three career 100-yard games already — with two coming in his first four games this season — and he’s put together some runs after the catch that are reminiscent of Penn State great Saquon Barkley.
Actually, scratch that. Hamler isn’t a fan of that comparison.
“I think everything always revolves around Saquon and I don’t like that, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m my own man; he’s his own man.
“To be honest, I don’t really like how people say that’s a Saquon spectacular-type run. I don’t like that. That’s a me-type run. I’m my own person. I make plays, and the coaches and the team help me out to put in situations of that nature.”
Hamler’s penchant for the big play is hard to miss. He’s ranked 13th nationally by averaging 22.1 yards per catch, the second-most in the conference behind Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman (22.2 ypc).
Hamler has garnered comparisons to the Philadelphia Eagles’ shifty DeSean Jackson, one of his favorite players. And he’s been described by opposing Big Ten defensive backs as “top-tier” (Illinois DB Nate Hobbs), “really shifty” (Iowa DB Michael Ojemudia) and as someone who can “make a big play at any moment in the game” (Michigan VIPER Khaleke Hudson).
Head coach James Franklin knows there’s no off-switch with Hamler, and he’s just fine with that.
“When KJ goes, there’s no three-quarter speed with him,” Franklin said. “That’s just how his personality is and how he practices and how he plays.”
And with Purdue’s passing defense ranked No. 118 nationally, surrendering nearly 300 passing yards per game, Hamler could be in for a big game at noon Saturday.
Maybe, Hamler hopes, even closer to 300 receiving yards.