Recruiting Profile: Justin Hamilton
by Will Stewart
TSL Extra, Issue #2

Beth Hamilton Stanley got an inkling that her son Justin might turn out to be an athlete when he was about four years old.

"When he was four," she said, "before he could read words, he would get the newspaper, and he would open it up and read the box scores of baseball games. No joke. I wish I had taken a picture of this little kid, sitting on the couch like a big adult, with the paper wide open, looking at the box scores."

Fourteen years later, little Justin Hamilton isn't so little, and baseball isn't his favorite sport anymore. Football is. And it's Justin's ability to tote the rock - he has piled up over 5600 yards and 82 touchdowns in four years at Clintwood High in Clintwood, Virginia - that led the coaches at Virginia Tech to offer him a scholarship to play for the Hokies' Top 10 football team.

On Tuesday, December 12, Hamilton ended a recruiting process that lately had become a little hectic by accepting Virginia Tech's offer and giving his verbal commitment to join the Hokies in the Fall of 2001. Hamilton's list of favorite schools included Georgia Tech and Miami, but in the end, it came down to the Hokies and the Tennessee Volunteers.

Justin visited Tech and Tennessee on back-to-back weekends December 1st and December 8th, and once his trips were over, he wasted no time in giving the Hokies the word.

"I like that the program's on the rise," Hamilton says of Virginia Tech. "I feel that every year, they are Big East contenders. I felt that the opportunity to play, along with Lee Suggs, would be there early. And I was really comfortable with all the coaches and the area.

"I really like Coach Wiles," Hamilton says of Tech defensive line Coach Charlie Wiles, who recruited him. "I think we'll have a good relationship, even past the four years that I'm at Virginia Tech."

No one in the small town of Clintwood, which is in the far reaches of Southwest Virginia, along the Kentucky border, was surprised by Justin's choice. Bill Castle, the athletic director and head boy's basketball coach at Clintwood High, said, "I graduated from Tech, and my brother did, and a lot of the faculty here did, so we were tickled pink that he committed to Tech."

According to Hamilton himself, Tech was always the team to beat. "From the beginning, VT was in the race, and throughout the whole recruiting process, I told the coaches and my mom and grandmother that Virginia Tech was on top, and all the other schools had to reach Virginia Tech. And in the end, no other school did."

For that, Hokie fans and coaches are grateful. A first-team All Group A running back in 1999, Hamilton entered the 2000 season as a SuperPrep preseason All-American and as the Roanoke Times's fourth-ranked player in the state of Virginia. In SuperPrep's Preseason 2000 issue, one college coach described Hamilton as "a Terry Kirby (former UVa standout and NFL running back) kind of guy. Runs straight up and down. He can really take a game over at tailback."

But Hamilton's accomplishments on the field in football-crazy Clintwood tell less than half the story of his ability as an athlete, and even less about him as a person. Because when you start talking about Justin Hamilton with those who know him, it's not his ability as an athlete that they talk about first. No, they talk about what he's like as a person, and the praise they heap upon him would probably embarrass the unassuming young tailback with the bright future, if he were to hear it first-hand.

Athletically, a Jack of All Trades

"A lot of people around here will tell you that they think baseball is his best sport," says Beth Stanley. "And then you have some people that say no, basketball is. But a lot of people will say that baseball is."

But Hokie fans don't need to worry about losing Justin Hamilton to baseball's minor leagues, or having him split his time between Frank Beamer's football team and Ricky Stokes's basketball team. Justin gave up baseball years ago, and in college, he'll concentrate solely on football.

"He played baseball up until he was about 13 or 14," Stanley says. "He was involved in an AAU league over the summers and they played, gosh, I don't know how many games. 125 games, or something like that. I could be exaggerating, but it felt like a 125. It was a bunch, a whole bunch.

"It turned out that a lot of the parents of the kids on the baseball team started fussing with each other, and he just had a bad taste in his mouth about the whole thing after that. And we just did not have a good baseball program then, so he just decided that in the spring, he would run track to help with football."

As for basketball, Hamilton loves the sport. Last year, he averaged 24 points and 12 rebounds a game for Clintwood and was named MVP of the Lonesome Pine District. Hamilton told SuperPrep last summer that Virginia Tech and Wake Forest had both offered him basketball scholarships, and according to Castle, who coaches Hamilton's Clintwood basketball team, Ricky Stokes has told Hamilton that "if he wanted to come on board, he'd be welcome."

Hamilton's pretty good in track, too. Last year, he won state championships in the 110-meter and 330-meter hurdles.

So with all that ability, how did Justin Hamilton come to settle on football as his sport of choice? That's easy. Football is king in Southwest Virginia, and the Lonesome Pine District, despite being a group A district, has produced some great football players. Powell Valley's Thomas Jones had a great career at the University of Virginia, and his younger brother Julius is already making an impact at Notre Dame. Now the highly-recruited Hamilton is the LPD's latest star.

Stanley sums it up. "In our town, where we live, the tradition is football. Justin has grown up into it. When you talk about Clintwood, you talk about football. Had basketball been the traditional sport, I think he would have gone into basketball, or even baseball. But here, it's football."

When he puts those other sports behind him and concentrates on football, Hamilton isn't likely to look back. And football better look out. If there's one thing Justin Hamilton knows how to do, it's work hard and reach his goals.

"One thing that I've always admired about him is his work ethic," says Stanley. Work ethic. How many mothers describe their sons that way? "It seems like he has always had a strong work ethic in everything he does since the day he was born. He seems to be able to set very realistic goals and do what it takes to achieve those goals."

She must be right, because without even hearing what she has said, Justin Hamilton describes himself like this: "One thing I do is try to set a lot of goals for myself. I've already started setting goals for my career at Virginia Tech. My first major goal is to be able to play as a true freshman. And the next is to carry the ball … I don't know if I should say a lot, but a good amount for a true freshman."

Virginia Tech's coaches might do well to pay close attention to that statement and think twice about their policy of redshirting most true freshmen when it comes to Hamilton. Because the next thing out of his mouth is, "Academically, I want to graduate in four years. Of course, I want to have good grades. Not just good enough to keep my eligibility, either. I want to get A's and B's."

Ah, yes, academics. The world's full of kids who can run with the football. The true gems have balance in their lives, and Hamilton has the other side of the coin mastered, as well. As a junior, he scored 1000 on his SAT's, and he entered this school year with a 3.9 GPA.

"That comes from my mom, and my grandmother and grandfather, who has passed now," Hamilton says of his academic achievements. "Academics always came first with them, and that translates into how I always try to put a lot of effort into my schoolwork."

Gosh, the kid's got it all. He's probably full of himself, right?

Staying Grounded

"I've been around Justin since he was a toddler," Castle says of his star basketball player. "You'll never hear him float his own boat. He'll never tell you how many points he had, or how many yards he had in a game, or how many touchdowns. He's pretty humble about those kinds of things. He's a good young man.

"We do an all-sports athletic banquet at the end of each school year. I keep up with whatever accolades or honors are bestowed upon our athletes here at our school, keep it on file, and I've typed it up year after year on Justin, and he just has a truckload of trophies, of things that he has won throughout the years.

"But the most amazing thing about him is his humbleness. He doesn’t go around talking about himself, and that, to me, means so much. When he made his announcement (of his verbal to VT) in front of several members of the media, I think they gathered that idea. He said that he had thought it over a lot, and that he wanted to make a decision that was best for his family, himself, and everyone included."

When asked to describe his son, mother Beth Stanley pauses for a second. Terms like "work ethic," and comments about his various athletic abilities are far from her mind. "He's just a wonderful kid," she gushes. "He has an excellent head on his shoulders. And he's a wonderful big brother. I have two daughters, ages 9 and a half and 6."

Another pause. "He's just a good kid. He doesn't put on airs. He's just a good kid."

Castle doesn't pull any punches.

"Virginia Tech has got one of the best kids that they could have gotten anywhere in this country," he says. "Not only as an athlete, but as a human being."

 

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