Penn State Football

Penn State football: Hamilton enters season with level head despite high expectations

Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton talks to reporters.
Wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton talks to reporters. CDT Photo

Every morning, Penn State receiver DaeSean Hamilton gets a Tweet sent to him by his mother, a former Marine and breast cancer survivor.

They’re uplifting and speak to Hamilton’s faith and family values — the values, he says, that raised him to be a very level-headed individual, and a leader.

“If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you,” one message reads. Another says “What will matter is not your success, but your significance.”

A third, from the beginning of August, says, “Wake up. Kick ass. Be kind. Repeat.”

Hamilton, who is a self-professed “mama’s boy”, tries to live his life by the words his mother, who goes by “Max”, sends him.

Yes, including those last ones.

The receiver has been busy in the offseason and in fall camp, as have his positional counterparts. They’ve studied film at least three times a week. Some have bulked up. All have worked on their technique. Hamilton especially is expected to lead that group to substantial improvement this year.

“You know, from all accounts, (Hamilton) had a great summer,” said offensive coordinator John Donovan at Penn State media day. “He’s worked hard. He’s done that through showing those guys how to do it.”

“All of us, we compete to get better every day,” said Hamilton of his position group later that day.

“We don’t really listen to outside critique...we don’t really hear the outside noise,” he added.

But there was definitely “outside noise” to be found a year ago.

Last season, the 6-foot-1, 206-pound Hamilton led the Big Ten as a redshirt freshman in catches with 82 receptions for 899 yards and two touchdowns.

The second-favorite target of quarterback Christian Hackenberg in 2014, by the numbers, was receiver Geno Lewis, who had 55 catches for 751 yards and two touchdowns during his sophomore season. Tight end Jesse James was the third-favorite, statistically speaking, with 38 receptions for 396 yards and three touchdowns in his final season with Penn State.

From there, the receiving options shrank.

Chris Godwin had 25 catches and two touchdowns while Saeed Blacknall pulled down eight, one for a touchdown.

That doesn’t look so promising, until it’s taken into consideration that both Godwin and Blacknall were true freshmen at the time, and, as of now, they’ve had over a year of development.

Both head coach James Franklin and receivers coach Josh Gattis said at Penn State media day that there is a noticeable difference in the young receivers from their first year to their second in the system.

“They’re just able to go out there and play much faster,” said Gattis. “We put a lot on our receivers in our system. They gotta know hot routes, they gotta know coverage adjustments, they gotta read coverages, they gotta be involved in the run game...”

Gattis tends to think on the positive side of things with his receiving corps. He said he was impressed by the success of the group last season in light of their youth.

“They’re going to be able to carry over a lot of confidence into this season,” he said.

And Hamilton said all of the receivers are “hungry” to improve.

“We’re our biggest critics,” he said at media day.

Another possible option at receiver has emerged in DeAndre Thompkins. Coaches are finding it hard to conceal their excitement about the progress of Thompkins, who has put on 16 pounds since his redshirt season last year, 12 of which are “lean muscle” according to Gattis, while still regaining his speed.

Gattis said Thompkins is one of the fastest players on the team — the 5-foot-11, 185-pound receiver ran a 4.46 second 40-yard dash at the Nike SPARQ tests at The Opening last July — and expects him to be an impact player this season.

“A lot of people questioned why we redshirted him,” said Gattis. Thompkins was the only receiver to redshirt. “But it played out for the best for him.”

Gattis and special teams coordinator Charles Huff said Thompkins could also contribute alongside kick returners Grant Haley, Nick Scott and Koa Farmer.

Hamilton is expected to still be a top target for Hackenberg, and the roles of complementary wideouts remain to be seen as fall camp continues. But the added experience Hamilton has around him gives depth, at the very least, and according to linebackers coach Brent Pry, from a defensive perspective, the receivers are looking good.

Limited views of Wednesday’s practice showed freshman Juwan Johnson’s impressive 6-foot-4 length as he stretched to pull down a pass from backup quarterback Trace McSorley at the weak-shoulder sideline, and another impressive grab on the strong sideline by Blacknall that got teammates chirping like an old smoke alarm.

“I tell you what,” Pry said, grinning after practice. “There’s a lot of threats on that side of the football.”