Hamlin, rugged mane help EWU smother opponents

Hamlin, rugged mane help EWU smother opponents

One look at Eagles linebacker Ronnie Hamlin and something is very clear: he has outstanding hair.

“He’s the man,” Eastern linebacker Grant Williams said of his fellow defender. “I mean, look at that hair. I know the ladies love it; you can’t go wrong with that.”

Hamlin’s hair is the result of a friendly wager between him and two other defensive players, Jeff Minnerly and Zach Johnson. In the 2010 fall camp, the trio ventured to see who could go the longest without cutting their hair.

Following the Eagles’ win over Delaware in the FCS title game, Johnson bowed out and cut his hair. Minnerly and Hamlin have stayed the course.

Aside from having enviable free-flowing tresses, Hamlin is also the leading tackler on an Eagles’ defense that ranks third in the Big Sky Conference in points allowed at 22.2 points per game.

A two-time winner of the Big Sky Conference defensive player of the week award this season, Hamlin’s 10.2 tackles per game ranks him third in the Big Sky and tied for 21st in the country. He has also added 5 ½ tackles for loss, one interception, three passes defensed and one forced fumble.

Hamlin played safety in high school but was recruited by the Eagles to play linebacker at the collegiate level. An ACL tear in his left knee resulted in a redshirt season during Hamlin’s first year at EWU in 2009, and another tear in the same knee a year later meant he would not play at all during the Eagles’ 2010 championship season. For Hamlin, that was “bittersweet.”

“You love to see your guys win; it’s awesome,” Hamlin said. “But in your heart you’re like, ‘Man, I should be out there playing with them.’ It is what it is. Hopefully this year we can get something going.”

Hamlin said the memory of his teammates winning the 2010 FCS title is motivating him this season.

“[I’m] trying to get what they got. I’m happy for them but I want to get there too.”

Second-year linebackers coach Josh Fetter said Hamlin plays with an aggressive “last play” mentality.

“He brings experience now,” Fetter said. “He plays every play like it’s his last. The game has definitely slowed down for him. He plays the game hard, the way you should.”

Fetter also spoke to Hamlin’s efforts in the classroom, saying, “[He’s a] great kid, great student too, excellent student.”

Eagles head coach Beau Baldwin sees Hamlin as the best of both worlds; a converted safety out of high school now playing linebacker.

“You’ve got a guy who’s athletic with ball skills, all the things that safeties have coming out of high school,” Baldwin said. “But now he’s big enough and strong enough and physical enough to play linebacker. You get an incredibly athletic linebacker is what you end up getting.”

Teammate Williams, second in tackles for the Eagles with 57 to Hamlin’s 82, said Hamlin’s versatility allows him to dominate.

“He’s got really good ball skills,” Williams said. “He’s big, strong, fast—he’s everything you want in a linebacker.”

Williams added, “He’s a beast. He’s the man out there.”

Hamlin and the Eagles are planning to ask the Big Sky Conference and the NCAA for a sixth year to allow Hamlin to replace the 2009 and 2010 seasons wiped out because of knee injuries.

Listed as a junior for the 2012 season, Hamlin will be listed as a junior again next season and hopes to be able to play as a senior during the 2014 season.

According to EWU sports information director Dave Cook, the request would be generated by EWU head athletic trainer Brian Norton and associate athletic director Dr. Don Ross before being submitted to the Big Sky Conference and NCAA for approval.

“Brian’s documentation of Ronnie’s injuries will be critical in getting the sixth year approved by the Big Sky and NCAA,” Cook said.

“My freshman year I was about to play, but I tore my left ACL,” Hamlin said. “2010, I tore it again. Now, if I do the paperwork, I might get a sixth year.”

In a similar case, linebacker Zach Johnson received his sixth year after missing a total of 19 games, including the entire 2009 season and part of 2011.