For Brandon Hamilton, there is just a certain excitement and thrill that comes with being a running back and kick return specialist who often is the first player to get his hands on the football.
“I get a chance to start us off with good field position, and that’s my mentality,” Hamilton said. “I want to start us off right. I want to start us off with some mojo and get us rolling on the field and get them excited. That’s what I do when I get on the field in kickoff return is try to make something happen, something big that gets the momentum going.”
Hamilton and his teammates hope to give Owls fans an early Christmas present today when Rice takes on Fresno State in the Hawaii Bowl. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
The redshirt sophomore is averaging 22 yards per kickoff return and has rushed for 87 yards and a touchdown on 22 attempts this season.
“I’m really excited,” Hamilton said. “I don’t know how to explain it. I’ve never traveled that far before with my team and going down there specifically just to play a ballgame is beyond belief. I never thought I’d be going to Hawaii to play a football game, but I’m excited about that.”
Rice (7-5) finished second in the Conference USA West Division with a 5-3 league mark while Fresno State (6-7) placed second in the Mountain West’s West Division with a 5-3 conference record. The Owls won seven of the final nine games of the regular season.
Though Rice had been a struggling program with only eight winning seasons from 1990 to 2010, Hamilton has been a part of Owl teams that have revitalized the program with three consecutive bowl appearances, including a win in the 2012 Armed Forces Bowl.
Hamilton said that the change in the program’s culture is a big credit to head coach David Bailiff.
“Our motto is we’re going to take over the world all by ourselves,” Hamilton said. “With that mentality that he’s instilling in us, I believe that that’s what’s changing the program, has us having winning seasons and competing at the highest levels.”
Hamilton established himself as a star at Copperas Cove where he earned all-state honorable mention after running for 1,505 yards and 26 touchdowns while averaging 7.6 yards per carry. He was an all-district selection as both a junior and senior.
But Hamilton’s collegiate career hasn’t been completely without a bump.
After rushing for 106 yards as a freshman, including a 53 yards on 11 carries against UTSA, Hamilton redshirted the 2013 season.
Though it was difficult to watch Rice go 10-4 and make it to the Liberty Bowl, Hamilton said that that path led to bigger and better things and gave him a chance to learn patience.
“I’m fortunate that I redshirted,” Hamilton said. “At first, I hated the idea, but as I talked with my coaches, I realized that my coaches gave me that option because they wanted me to succeed.”
Hamilton said the thought of people spending time with family watching him play for Rice on Christmas Eve hasn’t really crossed his mind. The most important thing is for the Owls to win the game and gain some momentum heading into spring practice and the 2015 season.
“You’re only as good as your last game, so getting a win and dominating is going to allow us to know what we’re capable of. We’ve just got to go in and feed off that,” Hamilton said. “There’s really nothing more or nothing less. The last game that you play, the bowl game, is just going to be a reflection of what you need to work on next year.”
- Fresno St. vs. Rice, 7 p.m. (ESPN)