Stuart McNair

Shaun Dion Hamilton is junior Alabama leader who remembers freshman trials

Alabama middle linebacker sees advantage in early enrollment

One of the big stories in college football this year is the number of freshmen who are starting quarterbacks, and playing well. Alabama has one of those in Jalen Hurts, who ignited the Crimson Tide off the bench in its win over Southern Cal and who has started the last two games.


In Alabama’s 48-43 come-from-behind victory over Ole Miss last week, Hurts was Bama’s leading rusher with 18 carries for 146 yards (8.1 yards per carry) and completed 19 of 31 passes for 158 yards.


For his accomplishments, Hurts was named the Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week.


He will certainly be the starter when Alabama hosts Kent State in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday (television by SEC Network).


While Hurts has started two games, another true freshman, Jonah Williams, has started all three games at right offensive tackle.


One of the leaders of Alabama’s defense this year is junior middle linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton, who has been receiving compliments from Tide Coach Nick Saban almost since his arrival on campus for the spring semester of his freshman season in 2014. Hamilton was a regular on special teams as a freshman and started five games for last year’s national championship team.


Saban said, “Shaun Dion has played really well for us. A very dependable guy. Smart guy and has made a ton of plays for us this year. We're really excited that he's been able to take the role that he has and he's a really good leader out there. He's done a great job for us.”


Hamilton has certainly taken notice of two freshmen who entered The University last spring and are now starting for the Tide.


“It’s definitely a challenge,” Hamilton said. “A guy who comes from high school to college is in a different environment, different players – everybody better. Time management, too. You’re always on the move, always have class, always have meetings, workouts. It’s a little bit harder and school is a little bit harder. Just the whole point of growing up.


“You don’t have Mom there anymore.”


He said all of the freshmen “have been doing a good job of adjusting. I’d say all our freshmen came in ready to work and willing to listen.”


Saban has never been reluctant to play freshmen, and pointed to last year’s team. “There are unique guys, and we certainly had some last year,” naming nickel back Minkah Fitzpatrick, wide receiver Calvin Ridley, nose tackle DaRon Payne, and safety Ronnie Harrison.


“ But when you take a freshman,” Saban said, “these guys are still trying to figure out going to class, how to handle the social aspects of their development, which is a little difficult when you're that age, and come to practice and prepare for a game, and all that. So some guys are unique in their ability to do that. Jalen is a little bit like that. He's very focused, nothing effects him, nothing bothers him. Nothing bothered him in the game.


"But for most freshmen, me included when I was a freshman, it's difficult to make all those adjustments academically, socially, and athletically and you go out there and play in a game of that magnitude and feel like you've got both feet on the ground."


As to Hurts making the adjustment at the most important position on the field and whether this trend is because high schools are playing similar offenses, Saban said, “It depends on the style of offense you play in high and what you develop in and what you go to in college. I think if a guy played in spread offense, he’s probably more apt to be able to come in and play early in a spread offense in college. If a guy played in a pro-style, dropback sort of offense in high school he’s probably going to be more apt to play in that style of offense in college.


“I think it’s when you get the crossovers – in other words, a guy was a spread guy and now you want him to be a dropback guy – that’s what takes time to develop guys because the learning curve is completely different and sometimes a little bit foreign to the guy in terms of what you’re trying to get him to do. I think that’s probably more the reason guys can play early.”


Hamilton had one other word for freshmen, perhaps more warning than advice.


Asked to name a favorite memory from his freshman year, Hamilton said, “My worst one was the first workout. I thought, ‘Wow, these four years going to be like this, it’s going to be a long four years.’”


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