Nothing small about Hamilton
'Little Joe' a big factor in teammates, opponents
Posted: Friday December 10, 1999 09:19 PM
Despite his small size, Joe Hamilton has passed for more than 10,000 yards in four seasons. Scott Halleran/Allsport
ATLANTA (AP) -- They called him "Little Joe," this diminutive
seventh-grader who showed up to play football in the Middle of
Physically, there wasn't much to indicate that Joe Hamilton
could handle the rigors of this rough, demanding game. But Kenneth
Green, then coaching at Macedonia Middle School, somehow sensed
this was his quarterback.
"I knew he had the mindset," Green said. "Sure, he was small.
Sometimes, small kids kind of get lost in the shuffle. That was
never a problem with him. He had this smile on his face that was
like, 'C'mon, give me a try.'"
So, he did. Hamilton started at quarterback in his very first
game for Macedonia Middle and never looked back. On Saturday,
Little Joe from Alvin, S.C., will sit at the front of the room at
the Downtown Athletic Club as a finalist for the Heisman Trophy.
"I'm proud as a peacock," Green said.
Still, after accounting for more than 10,000 yards in his career
at Georgia Tech, there are nay sayers who wonder how Hamilton did
it. He is listed at 5-foot-10, but the whisper campaign says he is
at least an inch or two shorter.
"I'm ready to reveal my true height," Hamilton said recently,
pausing for effect. "I am 6-foot-2."
He was kidding, of course. But what's all the fuss about?
Every Monday during football season, Hamilton grabs the sports
section and flips to the story about the Buffalo Bills. They also
have a quarterback who was supposed to be too short -- Doug Flutie.
"I carry the banner for guys who believe in what football is
all about," Hamilton said. "I carry the banner for guys who say,
'Hey, football hasn't changed.' It's about getting first downs,
getting touchdowns and trying to win. The size of the person has
nothing to do with it."
Directing an offense that ranked first in the nation in total
yards (508.8 a game) and second in scoring (40.7-point average),
Hamilton completed 67 percent of his passes for 3,060 yards and 29
touchdowns, with only 11 interceptions.
He thrived even when the Yellow Jackets lost their top two
running backs, finishing second on the team in rushing with 734
yards and six TDs. If not for upset losses to Virginia and Wake
Forest late in the season, Hamilton probably would be favored for
the Heisman instead of Wisconsin's Ron Dayne.
"Those losses hurt real bad," said Hamilton, who will play his
final college game when the No. 17 Yellow Jackets (8-3) meet No. 23
Miami in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day. "I don't think it
should take away from my overalton honed his instincts on every backyard and vacant lot
in Alvin, a South Carolina town of about 800 people where there's
not much to do except hang out at Kinlaw's Barber Shop and play
Amazingly, this hamlet has produced Penn State defensive end
Courtney Brown, San Francisco 49ers safety Pierson Prioleau and
former Philadelphia Eagles receiver Harvey Middleton. In the last
six years, 18 players from Alvin-area schools have earned major
Not bad for a town not listed on official state road maps since
at least 1956. (That changes next year, largely because of
"Those kids aren't around a big city," Green said. "They
don't have movie theaters and shopping malls and skating rinks.
Football is what they're going to play. That's it."
Green remembers Hamilton's first game at Macedonia Middle School
in 1989, the same year Hurricane Hugo ripped through the South
Green gave Little Joe seven plays, putting them on a wristband
so he wouldn't forget. The coach planned to relay the plays with a
tight end, but that kid was injured early in the game. Green
panicked, wondering how he would get the plays to Hamilton. Then
the quarterback reminded him of the system they had worked out
before the game to use with a no-huddle offense.
Green would hold up anywhere from one to seven fingers to
indicate the play.
"He took me by the arm and said, 'Calm down, coach, just give
me a number,'" Green recalled. "I was like, 'Oh, OK.' I almost
forgot we had that system. I would give him a number and he called
the play. I said to myself, 'Uh, oh, this kid is unreal.'"
Hamilton is still grateful to Green for taking a chance.
"He easily could have said, 'Joe, you're going to be a running
back' or 'Joe, you're going to be a wide receiver,'" Hamilton
said. "Luckily, he made me the quarterback. I haven't looked back
since seventh grade."
Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
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