Who was Georgia Tech’s best quarterback ever?
There are more than a few candidates, though Joe Hamilton easily has the top numbers.
Tech’s highest finisher in the Heisman Trophy race, along with Billy Lothridge in 1963, Hamilton finished second to Wisconsin’s Ron Dayne in 1999 and ended his career with ACC records in total offense (10,640) and touchdown passes (63).
He was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame two years ago, though he says his greatest accomplish came eight years after his last game with the Yellow Jackets, when he received his degree.
That, he said, “Made his mother almost jump through the ceiling when she was watching me cross that stage and shake the president of the school’s hand. That’s topped it all.’’
Hamilton came from the small town of Alvin, S.C., but he was only 5-foot-11 and wondered if he went to either Penn State or Nebraska, “would I get moved to another position.’’
Tech coach George O’Leary promised Hamilton he could play quarterback. He also loved the allure of the big city.
Hamilton arrived in 1995, was redshirted, and then struggled the next year, throwing 13 interceptions to seven touchdowns. The next season, he completed 64 percent of his passes as the Jackets went 7-5 and played in the Carquest Bowl.
That began an 18-year bowl streak that wasn’t snapped until last season.
His junior year, the Jackets finished 10-2 and beat Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl as Hamilton threw 17 touchdown passes and for 2,166 yards. They also defeated Georgia to break a seven-game losing streak to the Bulldogs.
The summer before his senior year, Tech promoted Hamilton for the Heisman Trophy, an aggressive campaign that he backed up with another strong year. He threw for 3,060 yards and ran for 734 yards. He also threw 29 touchdown passes, ran for another nine and beat the Bulldogs again.
When the Heisman Trophy ceremony came around, Hamilton finished second to Dayne.
The 1999 NFL Draft came, and because of his size, Hamilton said he was glad to be drafted, taken by Tampa Bay in the seventh round. He took only four snaps in three years, but earned a Super Bowl ring when the Buccaneers defeated Oakland in 2003.
Hamilton’s career ended in the Arena Football League in 2006.
He went into coaching, though he spent only two weeks as an assistant at Georgia Tech before resigning because of his arrest for DUI and possession of marijuana.
The school rehired him five years later to help with recruiting.
Where he lives: Hamilton, 39, lives in Fairburn and has been married to Kenya for 13 years. They have two children, son Skylar and daughter Kayden. Kenya played basketball at Georgia Tech.
What he does: He trains quarterbacks for QB Country.
On his decision to come to Tech: “It was a unique situation because of my size. Joe Paterno and Tom Osborne were in my living room, but I had to trust my mother and father. The coaches would always tell me I was going to play quarterback, but I wondered if I went out and had a practice and threw three interceptions, if I would be at defensive back the next day. Clemson would never take the athlete tag off me, so I always held a grudge against them and I felt like being in the city of Atlanta was going to help me in a lot of ways. Plus, Tech was coming off a 1-10 season and I felt like I would have a chance to play.’’
On the wins over Georgia: “They were crazy, especially my senior year, when we won in overtime. Beating them was huge because it just didn’t happen a lot. When we won in Athens my junior year, I put those hedges in my mouth after the game, which was probably a little too much.”
On going to the Heisman ceremony: “If you asked me 10 times if I would go back still knowing I was not going to win, I would say yes 10 times. The PR department did such a good job getting behind me, and what I remember the most, was taking a bus trip with all the Heisman winners. Then, with Michael Vick, Ron, Drew (Brees) and Chad (Pennington), we started throwing these foam rubber dart balls into this basket. We did it for more than an hour, and it got really competitive.’’
On going into the College Hall of Fame: “When I first saw my name on the ballot, I thought it would be years before I got in. But the national voters were behind me, and when the announcement came in, my teammates started calling me and were saying they felt like they got in, too. That made me feel great.’’
On graduating from Tech: “Because of my redshirt, I had five years to get my degree and it was embarrassing to go that long and not graduate. Any time Tech had something, I sort of shrunk back because of it, because I wasn’t the complete Tech person. But I did it, and it was better than any award I got.’’
On the current Yellow Jackets: “I hated to see the bowl streak get stopped last year, but sometimes after doing something like going to an Orange Bowl, players lose attention. I am a big fan of coach (Paul) Johnson and hopefully they can start another streak.’’