We headed to A-Town to speak with one of the greatest players in ACC history, Joe Hamilton.
Former Yellow Jacket’s QB, Joe Hamilton, is the school’s all-time leader in total offense with 10,640 yards. He won the prestigious Davey OBrien Award as the nations top quarterback and finished second to Wisconsins Ron Dayne in the voting for the 1999 Heisman Trophy.
Coming out of Macedonia High School in South Carolina, Joe Hamilton’s dream was to represent his home state while playing college football at Clemson University. He had no shortage of options when it came to the scholarship offers that poured in, but he’d long envisioned himself staying close to home and playing in Death Valley.
As a senior, he was the state’s Prep Player of the Year, an All-American that was ranked among the top athletes in the country. But in Hamilton’s mind, that presented a conundrum.
He appreciated the accolades and the attention, but he implored all of the schools recruiting him to not list him as simply an “athlete.” He told everyone in no uncertain terms that he was a quarterback, and if they insisted on suggesting that he play defensive back or wide receiver in college, they were wasting their time.
Unfortunately for Clemson and many others, they didn’t listen.
As a four-year varsity player, he’d thrown for 5,425 yards and 67 touchdowns while rushing for 1,858 and 32 more scores. As a senior, he threw 17 TD passes and no interceptions. But despite his leadership ability, speed, accuracy, strong arm and innate gifts as a signal caller, most recruiters could not get past his lack of prototypical size.
At 5-foot-10, they loved his competitiveness. They’d seen him elevate others on the gridiron and the hardwood, where he was a two-time all-state point guard, but would not commit to playing him solely at quarterback in college.
Hamilton said, “Thanks, but no thanks,” and made his choice. He was determined to control his own destiny, and chose a school that shared his vision.
As a freshman at Georgia Tech, he was the starting quarterback on opening day and proceeded to win four ACC Rookie of the Week awards. He announced his arrival on the college football scene by leading the Yellow Jackets to a 28-16 win over North Carolina State.
Despite losing to Clemson that first year by a score of 28-25, he showed the Tigers what they’d missed out on by rallying Tech from a 21-10 halftime deficit with two third-quarter touchdown drives.
As a sophomore in 1997, he was named Tech’s Most Valuable Player and began to be recognized as one of the best signal callers in the country after averaging 339.3 yards of total offense over the team’s last four games and finishing the season with a string of 115 straight passing attempts without an interception.
By his junior year, he was a First-team all-ACC quarterback who directed the conference’s highest scoring offense that averaged 35.5 points per game. But that merely set the stage for a senior campaign, where he became a consensus First Team All-American, that will never be forgotten by those who witnessed it.
Completing 67% of his passing attempts, he shattered previous school records by tossing 29 touchdown passes, throwing for 3,060 yards and averaging five yards per carry while rushing for 734 yards and six touchdowns. Two signature performances that encapsulated his brilliance came against Georgia and Florida State. Against the Bulldogs in an unforgettable 51-48 overtime win, he tossed four touchdown passes and accumulated 435 yards of total offense while completing 22 of his 32 passing attempts for 341 yards while also rushing for 94 yards.
Against the #1 ranked Seminoles in a 41-35 defeat, he connected on 22 of his 25 passes for 387 yards and four touchdown and also rushed for a 19-yard touchdown.
Hamilton was he first player in NCAA Division I-A history to top 10,000 total yards with 1,500 rushing yards. As proud as he is of being inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2014, he’s even prouder of returning to his alma mater to complete his Bachelor’s Degree requirements in 2007.
Considered one of the greatest college football quarterbacks ever, Joe Hamilton is a testament to following one’s own heart and believing in the beauty of his own dreams. Because had he listened to those who told him that he wasn’t a college quarterback, he never would have scaled to the heights that he ultimately achieved.