Hamilton's Father Watches from a Distance

ATHENS – It was Jakar Hamilton's father, before everything fell apart for him, who got his son to play football.

The son remembers a playful punch, but a warning that another one was coming if he didn't stay on that field.

If not for his father, according to Hamilton, "I wouldn't even be playing football."

This Saturday, when Hamilton comes home, he will have a long list of family, friends, former teammates and coaches clamoring for tickets to see him in the big game at Williams-Brice Stadium.

One person, though, will not be there.

Hamilton's father, Michael Goodson Sr., is in a Texas federal prison, serving a nearly 20-year sentence for mail and wire fraud.

He will not see his son start at free safety for No. 22 Georgia when it faces No. 24 South Carolina. He did not see Jakar, in his first game as a Bulldog last Saturday, return an interception for a touchdown.

Nor has the father ever seen another son, Michael Goodson Jr., play tailback for the NFL's Carolina Panthers.

He also hasn't seen Demetri Goodson, another son, start at guard for the Gonzaga men's basketball team.

Hamilton with his two younger brothers the day before he committed to the Dawgs.

"At first I was mad that that happened, and he did what he did," Hamilton said this week. "But God said everyone is forgiven. I forgave him for everything that happened in my life.

"As a child I tried to blame it on him. But as I got older I realized that I have to live my life. I have to live my life and make decisions for my own. That's what I finally came to realize and that's what I did."

By normal accounts, this Saturday would be a happy homecoming for Hamilton, a chance to showcase himself in the stadium he starred at in high school.

But Hamilton's story is a bit more complicated than that.

He was born in West Virginia, and has also lived in New Jersey. He was living with his mother and other siblings in Johnston, S.C., when in the eighth grade he decided he wanted a closer bond with his father. Goodson Sr. lived in Spring, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

So Hamilton picked up and moved there, where his father encouraged him to pick up football. Jakar at first hated it, but grew to love it. The ironic thing was that Goodson Sr. had starred in basketball, playing point guard for the University of Pittsburgh from 1985-87.

But later in life things were going wrong for Goodson Sr. He would be convicted on charges relating to an $11 million mortgage fraud scheme. His scheduled release date is July 7, 2027.

Meanwhile, Jakar was moving between Texas and South Carolina, four times in a two-year span. In contrast to his father's lavish home, back in South Carolina Jakar's mom couldn't afford the $40 cost of a physical, causing him to miss football practices.

Hamilton also had academic problems, mostly related to transcript issue from the constant moving. Once he got on the field he starred for Strom Thurmond, whom he helped win a state championship his junior year, in a game played at Williams-Brice.

But it was exclusively as a defensive player.

"He was so valuable to us on offense," Strom Thurmond coach Lee Sawyer said. "He was one of those guys where if he touched the ball five times, it was subject to score 50 percent of the time."

There wasn't much chance of Hamilton going straight to a four-year school, thanks to his academic issues. South Carolina was interested in him, and Hamilton said its staff "suggested" he go to Georgia Military College.

His recruiter was assistant coach Robert Gillespie, who eventually left for Oklahoma State. Hamilton didn't hear from the Gamecocks again until last year, when his recruitment heated back up. By then he had decided on Georgia.

Hamilton scores the first TD of his career.

Hamilton became the only member of Georgia's 2010 signing class to start in the opener. The big play came in the fourth quarter when he nabbed a pass thrown right at him, and returned it 17 yards into the end zone.

"He's a young player and he's just gonna get better," Georgia defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. "He's shown all the skill sets we want at the position we want him to play. And I just think the guy's gonna continue to work hard and do the things we want him to do, and he's got a lot of upside."

Georgia's official roster on Saturday listed Hamilton as being from Edgeville, S.C., instead of Edgefield. Either way, Hamilton planned to ask them to correct it to Johnston.

That's about an hour's drive from Williams-Brice, the scene of his high school glory.

"It's a big, pretty stadium. I'm ready to step back in there again," Hamilton said. "I haven't been in there since then, since we played there. I'm just ready to go there, play in front of my home people."

All except one.

Hamilton said he still cries sometimes, especially at games when he sees the fathers of other players. He last spoke with his dad a week ago, two days before Georgia's opener.

"I talked to him for awhile," Hamilton said. "He's in really good spirits. To see me come out, to know what I've been through, and know how far I've come, he's real proud of me. Every day, I say a prayer for him, to hope he can come out and see me play."

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