ATHENS — There was always something singular about Jakar Hamilton. He could run so fast, and with such a burst, that it was said his first step left a hole in the ground. He could take a man down hard. He could score half the time he touched a football.
The only thing he could never do, it seemed, was stay in one place.
The child who was born in West Virginia and lived for a time in New Jersey moved before high school from South Carolina to Texas. Then, a year later, he went back and forth again.
He finally settled in tiny Edgefield, S.C., for his final two years of high school. But then, felled by transcript issues, he spent two years at junior college.
Now Hamilton has popped up at Georgia, where he may very well at last fulfill that talent.
“You could tell he was special the first time I laid eyes on him,” said Lee Sawyer, who coached Hamilton at Strom Thurmond High School in South Carolina.
It first happened as a seventh-grader, when Sawyer spotted Hamilton playing rec football.
“And I’m thinking, ‘Holy cow.’ ” Sawyer said. “He was one of those in rec ball where you could just tell, this guy is at a whole different level.”
By last summer, Hamilton’s talent was so evident that the colleges that were scared off of him in high school because of academics were now on him hard. Sawyer said Alabama head coach Nick Saban told him Hamilton was the best defensive back prospect he had seen in the Southeast.
Now, Hamilton has a decent chance of starting for Georgia. He is in a three-man practice rotation at safety; Bacarri Rambo seems likely to start at one of the spots, alongside either Nick Williams at the strong spot or Hamilton at the free spot.
But Hamilton is no late bloomer. He was just cursed a bit by circumstance and is now getting his shot.
Not bad for someone who only started playing safety two years ago.
“I’m kinda really proud of myself, because I’ve only played safety for two years. I’m really new at this,” Hamilton said. “I’ve come a long way from moving straight from offense.”
The athletic genes are there. Hamilton said his older brother is Michael Goodson, a Carolina Panthers running back.
The work ethic has never been a question, either. Or his ability to deliver a hit.
“He might not know this, but I’ll be watching him play, and it motivates me to go harder,” Rambo said. “I see him flying to the ball. I say, I gotta fly to the ball. It just pushes me. I’d like to see him play.”
Hamilton admits to an affinity for hitting. At Georgia Military College he watched film of the late Sean Taylor, the hard-hitting Washington Redskins safety, then tried to mimic him at practice.
“I still do it now,” Hamilton said. “I try to watch Brian Dawkins. I try to watch Sean Taylor. I try to watch Ed Reed. I feel with my speed and my ability to move my hips, I could try to work and be like those three guys.”
In high school, Hamilton mostly played receiver, but his team used the I-formation to get him the ball. He was, as Sawyer said, “subject to score 50 percent of the time.” Hamilton scored 20 touchdowns as a senior and along with quarterback Coco Hillary (later a receiver on the Appalachian State team that upset Michigan) won a state title.
But what stood out to Sawyer were the post-practice sprints, when the entire team lined up and Hamilton gunned it.
“When he would take off it would be like a hole in the ground,” Sawyer said. “I’d never seen a kid who had that much explosion off the first step. You could about plant corn in the hole he would leave.”
So where were all the recruiters back then? Clemson and South Carolina both showed interest, but they stopped once they saw Hamilton’s transcript; crucial core classes were missing in the transition from Texas. Hamilton also broke his foot late in his senior year, which prevented him from playing in any all star games.
So Hamilton sat out a year, then he was off to Georgia Military. He played two seasons there and was named an All-American as a sophomore, when he was also a finalist for national defensive player of the year.
When the big-time schools came calling, Hamilton opted to stay in state. At this point, he had moved enough in his life.
“Hopefully I just keep doing what I’m doing, get in my playbook, show the coaches I want to start,” Hamilton said. “I really want to start. I’ll do anything to do it.”