Pitt's Damar Hamlin ready to finally make full impact
Two years after signing as one of Pitt's most prized recruits in recent memory, Damar Hamlin finally feels as if he's ready to shine.
“It's like, ‘About time,' ” Hamlin said after spring practice Thursday. “It's what everyone has been waiting on.”
Hamlin's first two seasons at Pitt have been marred by injury: He's played in only 12 of the Panthers' 25 games in that time and limited to only a handful of preseason or spring practices.
But Hamlin has been a regular through the first six sessions of Pitt's spring ball as the first-team field safety.
“He's really having a nice spring,” coach Pat Narduzzi said. “He's smart and doing a lot of good things. He's stronger than he's ever been. It'll be a different year for him, for sure.”
Because of a sports hernia injury, Hamlin didn't make his college debut until the eighth game of his freshman 2016 season. He played in the next two contests before being shut down.
Hamlin underwent multiple surgeries over the course of that fall and spring, which kept him out of spring and summer workouts and delayed his 2017 debut until Week 3.
“It's been frustrating for him. For him, it IS about time,” Narduzzi said. “He was coming out here every day and not getting to do anything and being behind because of an injury that he had no control over. I'm just fired up that he's back.”
So is Hamlin, for whom no one had higher expectations to immediately make an impact than he. With the limited playing time, Hamlin's stat line through two seasons (48 tackles, one interception) is underwhelming.
But now that he's healthy, more experienced in the defense, established at a position and — perhaps most importantly — able to take part in a full complement of practices, Hamlin is as confident and “settled” as he's been since he was a star at Central Catholic.
“No doubt. Last year, I was making the transition to safety and plus coming off an injury, so it was just a lot coming at me real fast,” said Hamlin, a McKees Rocks native. “But now it's just like everything has slowed down, and I can just play.
“(Now I can) just sit on routes and be confident that I am not going to get beat.”
The junior is feeling comfortable enough that he talks of being a “quarterback of the defense” in regards to communicating with the boundary safety and the rest of the defense.
When he committed to Pitt during the same high school season as fellow WPIAL standout Paris Ford, the two pictured themselves as something of a “No Fly Zone” secondary in the ACC for years to come.
This spring, the two finally are roaming a defensive backfield together at Pitt.
Just not the way they thought.
“We definitely thought we had it all planned out that he was gonna be safety, and I was gonna be corner,” Hamlin said.
Ford is at cornerback this spring.
“Defensive back is defensive back,” Hamlin said. “You just take your couple minutes to get your footwork down, and you will be good wherever you're at.”
It took Hamlin a couple games for that last season. He can see the difference in his game film from Week 3 to the season-ending upset against No. 2 Miami.
“When I first started (to play against) Oklahoma State, second half, I looked at myself (on film), I just looked real raw, loose, like a little kid out there,” Hamlin said. “But towards the end of the season, I just looked like more confident, more patient.”
Patience, it seems, is about to pay off for Hamlin.