Hamlin Living the Dream in Florida

CLEMSON - As the Clemson football team arrives in Orlando today, at least one player finds himself already living a dream.

Off the field, Clemson safety Mike Hamlin is a soft-spoken guy.

He isn't the vocal leader of a defensive unit that finished 13th in the nation in scoring defense. He isn't a guy that led the team in interceptions or tackles.

No Mike Hamlin isn't that kind of player this year. Instead, he finds himself as a key component in a secondary that improved dramatically over the course its last five games.

Looking back on the Tigers' season, it's clear that Hamlin made tremendous strides, especially for a redshirt freshman.

"I felt like it was a good year for me," Hamlin said as the Tigers prepare for their bowl game against Colorado on Dec. 27. "If you look around and see who we have coming back next year, you start to realize that we've got a good foundation for the next couple of years. Hopefully, I'll be a big part of that."

Indeed he should.

Hamlin played in all 11 games in his first year on the field, including making six starts along the way. Overall, he finished the season with 53 total tackles, including one for a loss and two interceptions. One of those interceptions- which came against All-American wide receiver Calvin Johnson - seemed to help elevate his play to another level.

"That (interception) gave me more confidence," said Hamlin. "To go out there and produce against one of the best receivers in the country. That was big."

He was also a versatile player, rotating in at the free safety and cat safety positions when called upon.

However, it wasn't until the midway point of the season that Hamlin, and the rest of the Clemson defense for that matter, really started to understand what Coach Vic Koenning's new defensive scheme was all about.

"It took us about four or five games after watching everything on film to realize the simple mistakes we were making. We lost a couple of games early just because of people were in the wrong position and not communicating. After a while, everybody got a feel for everything and it started rolling smoothly," he said.

"Coach Vic, his defense is simple but learning all the new terminology and everything was difficult. I think that was a big thing for us was getting all aspects of his defense down."

Now, with the regular season behind him, Hamlin and his teammates have been focused on the Tigers' bowl game against Colorado. And for Hamlin in particular, the Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando is a nice reward for his first year on the field.

"It's a dream," he said. "I've always wanted to live in Florida and to be going down there to play in a bowl game ... it's a dream. That's just one place I know I'll always like to be.

"When we became bowl eligible and got that seventh win over South Carolina, I knew this game was going to be a possibility and I'm excited about it."

Suffice it to say, so are Clemson fans- both with a bowl game in Orlando, and also with Hamlin's play as a redshirt freshman.

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