ATLANTA (Nov. 14) – Georgia Tech quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Joe Hamilton calls himself a utility player.
“Winning is what I care about, whatever it takes,” says Hamilton, who has guided the 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets (7-2, 5-2 ACC), to a 17-3 record in the last 20 games as they travel to Wake Forest this Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. contest at Groves Stadium.
“It’s my job to get us in the right play and to make sure that all 11 guys on offense are working together for us to be successful. If I have to pass the ball or run the ball to make plays, then I’ll do it. But I wouldn’t care if I didn’t touch the ball at all, as long as we win. If I can hand the ball off every play and that’s what we need to do to win, then that’s fine with me.”
The 12th-ranked Yellow Jackets rely upon Hamilton to do just a little more than that.
The 5-10, 189-pound senior leads the nation in passing with an efficiency rating of 182.2 that is just off the NCAA record of 183.3. He has completed 68 percent of his passes for 2,438 yards and 24 touchdowns while rushing for 604 yards and six scores, an average of 338 yards of total offense per game that ranks third in the nation. With two games to play, he has already set Tech single-season records for passing yards, touchdown passes and total offense.
His effort in Tech’s 45-42 win over Clemson is just another example of his value and versatility. Not only did he throw a school-record five touchdown passes, he also rushed for 88 yards. He completed 22 of 30 passes for 322 yards with touchdowns long and short–connecting from 28, 42, 12, nine and three yards as he guided the Yellow Jackets to 537 yards of total offense. All this against a very athletic Clemson defense that ranked seventh in the nation in pass efficiency defense and had only allowed three teams to gain over 400 yards in the last 33 games. In fact, Hamilton’s 410 yards of total offense were the most ever by an individual against the Tigers.
Performances like that have made Hamilton the most prolific offensive player in Atlantic Coast Conference history with 9,888 yards of total offense as he shoots to become the first player in league history to reach 10,000 yards. He is also the league’s all-time leader in touchdown passes with 60.
But Tech offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen, the architect of the nation’s most potent offense, says there’s a lot more to Hamilton than just the numbers next to his name.
“Joe’s invaluable, not only because he makes plays, but he’s checking off and putting us into plays where we have a chance to be successful,” says Friedgen, who asks his quarterback to combine the option game with a sophisticated drop-back passing attack.
“The decision comes down to Joe, and he’s so smart. Think about it. We lose our top two tailbacks for the season, we’re using a defensive lineman as a our fullback some of the time, and we’re still putting up the numbers we’re putting up. It’s got to be him.”
The numbers Tech and Hamilton are putting up:
Start with 41.6 points 510.7 total yards per game, both of which lead the nation. A school-record 50 touchdowns with two games to play. A ACC-leading third-down conversion success rate of 56 percent. Ranking 10th in the nation in rushing with a third-string tailback.
Hamilton, in turn, gives a lot of the credit to his offensive line.
“Our offensive line has been exceptional all year long,” he says. “With those guys, it’s not just a matter of not giving up sacks, they take pride in not letting me get hit at all. They been very consistent all year long, with everybody doing their job every play. That’s why we’ve been able to rotate backs and still be successful.”
Hamilton’s success has come as no surprise to the folks back in his hometown of Alvin, S.C., about 40 miles north of Charleston. The same men who watched Little Joe execute the triple option to perfection as a 12-year-old in the field behind Kinlaw’s barbershop now cheer his every move on television. Hamilton has brought so much notoriety to Alvin that he has put the tiny hamlet on the map, literally.
Tech graduate Sherwood Bridges of North Augusta, S.C., sent a letter to South Carolina Governor James Hodges noting that Alvin does not appear on the map issued by the South Carolina Department of Transportation and asking that the omission be corrected, due to Hamilton’s success. Bridges received a response stating that Alvin would be added to the 2000 South Carolina Highway Map.
The Hamilton fervor is not confined to the low country of South Carolina. Everywhere on the Flats, the Tech faithful sing his praises, from a main campus street that is painted with the words, “Hamilton for Heisman,” to a group of students in the bleachers who deck themselves in yellow and black body paint and wigs to spell out “J-O-E-H-E-I-S-M-A-N” each game.
The latest tribute comes from John Heisman himself. The long-time Georgia Tech coach is honored with a bronze statue in front of Bobby Dodd Stadium, a likeness that now bears a #14 jersey and a sign proclaiming Hamilton as “My choice for the Heisman.”
“The Georgia Tech fans and the students have been unbelievable,” says the gregarious yet humble Hamilton. “Everywhere you go, they’re very excited and very supportive. They appreciate that you’re going out there and working hard every day and that you’re doing things right, in football and academics. It’s great to be able to give them a winning team.”
Maybe Joe Hamilton will able to give them Georgia Tech’s first Heisman Trophy as well.