Pitt’s Damar Hamlin thrilled for 1st camp ... in 3rd year
Damar Hamlin was buzzing around Pitt’s practice field Saturday like this was the junior’s first preseason camp with the team.
And in many ways, it is.
For the first time in his three years, Hamlin is healthy, happy and able to join his teammates for workouts in the humid August heat at their South Side practice facility. A sports hernia from high school and several surgeries to fix it kept the former Central Catholic star sidelined the past two summers.
“Really, this is my first camp,” Hamlin said Saturday. “My first year, I did about a week, and then I couldn’t go any more. And then last year, I was out for the whole camp. ... So this is like my first camp, really, actually participating in practice. It just feels good to be able to finally fly around and play.”
Hamlin played nine games at safety last season and started four times, but his excitement for this camp kept building since spring.
“I couldn’t wait for it,” he said. “To finally feel good and play, it’s definitely different.”
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound defensive back also is feeling confident about his new position.
Hamlin was recruited as a four-star cornerback but switched to safety last season, a transition that had him learning new responsibilities on the run. He made 41 tackles and one interception at his new position but played much of the time while still learning on the job.
“Now I can call myself a safety,” he said. “I’m adjusted. I feel comfortable. I’m ready for whatever.”
Hamlin enters this season as a source of experience and leadership in what could be a solid defensive secondary.
The Panthers also return senior Dennis Briggs and junior Dane Jackson from last year’s secondary. Jackson was a full-time starter at cornerback, and Briggs started four games at safety. Sophomore Bricen Garner started six games at safety, and sophomores Therran Coleman and Phil Campbell each started once.
Freshman Paris Ford, who redshirted last year, also will find a role.
“I feel like we can be a dominant group,” Hamlin said. “We’ve got a lot of energy now with the new coaches, new defensive coordinator (Randy Bates), a lot of new energy, a lot of new adjustments that we can go to now if things aren’t going well. ... It’s like a new era, a new feeling in the defensive group.”
When he looks around at the defensive backs, he sees a group that’s both talented and deeper than in years past.
“I sit in the front of the room, and (when) I look back, it’s a whole room full of people who can play,” he said. “Even the young guys, they can play. That’s a good feeling just to have that depth, knowing if you’re out there, you’re tired, you can’t go, it’s nothing to tap out and get a quick play (off) knowing the next person in is going to handle business.”
Now that his Pitt career has reached the halfway mark, the milestone has him approaching football a little differently.
“I think about that every day: I’m a junior now,” he said. “I’ve just got to have more sense of urgency. But I wish I could have had that redshirt year.”
The NCAA approved a rule change this summer that allows football players to participate in as many as four games and still qualify for a redshirt season, earning them an additional year of eligibility. Hamlin played in three during an injury-shortened freshman season, but the new rule only applies moving forward.
“When they introduced it to us, I was just sitting there like (in disbelief) when they told us it wasn’t retroactive,” said Hamlin, shaking his head.
But rather than dwell on the seasons behind him, Hamlin is focused on the days ahead.
“I’ve got a big leadership role now,” he said. “It shouldn’t even matter if I got the (redshirt) year or not. Just use the time I’ve got and just make the best of it.”