CLEMSON — Jeanette Hamlin realized her husband’s influence while watching how her three sons would passusually passed their free time.
Some kids would ride bikes, wrestle, maybe climb trees.
The three Hamlin brothers would throw a football into the air.
The boy who caught the ball would be chased by the other two until he was tackled.Whoever caught the ball, the other two would chase until tackled.
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“All I knew how to play was safety,” Mike Hamlin Sr. said. “So that’s all we worked on out in the yard.”
Two in-state colleges have reaped what Hamlin, a Darlington County deputy officer, once sewed.Michael Hamlin Jr., a redshirt junior, has started at Clemson’s cat safety spot for nearly three seasons and is tied for the ACC lead in interceptions with three.
Markee Hamlin, a redshirt sophomore, is in his second season as South Carolina State’s starting strong safety and has a team-high two interceptions.
Marquais Hamlin has followed in Markee’s footsteps and is redshirting as a freshman at S.C. State, where he, too, will play safety.
All three starred in the secondary at Lamar High School — the rival of Timmonsville High, where Mike Sr. tied the state prep record for interceptions in a game, picking off five passes against Scott’s Branch in 1984.
Recreational league coaches tried to convince the Hamlin children to embrace playing a position at which they would hold the ball in their hands. And while all three played offense for Lamar — Mike threw a pass to fellow receiver Markee for a 31-yard touchdown in the 2003 state title game victory — there was little doubt where their lot had been cast.
“I’ve known I was going to play safety ever since my dad said we weren’t going to break his record,” Markee said.
So far, Mike Sr.’s prophesy has held true; the closest any of his sons have come is Markee’s three-interception performance in a junior-varsity contest.
The best they can do is to challenge the significance of Mike Sr.’s record, questioning how he failed to return any of the five for a touchdown — a feat some of his sons have achieved.
Michael has collected an interception in three consecutive games and needs one in Saturday’s game against No. 15 Virginia Tech to tie three players for the school record for consecutive games with a pick.
Michael (6-foot-3, 200 pounds) is three inches taller than anyone else in his immediate family. His size and innate abilities stand to give Michael a chance at the pros.
He was projected as a fifth-round pick by the NFL’s draft advisory committee after last season and figures to seek an evaluation again this year, Mike Sr. said, to decide whether he should go pro early.
Defensive coordinator Vic Koenning recently labeled Michael “indispensable” because of his execution and feel for the game.
“He basically had a cape on his back and ‘S’ on his chest,” Koenning said.
What Michael lacks in speed, intimidation and demonstrative emotion is compensated for by his middle brother.
Markee (6-0, 170) has his father’s build and demeanor. He leads the Bulldogs with 22.5 tackles in four games — a 5.5 average, one-tenth behind Michael’s 5.6.
That is not the important number for a band of brothers, including Marquais (6-0, 177).Until Michael left for college, the trio had an annual ritual in which they would push together the beds in Markee and Marquais’ room and spend the night together before the first day of school.
“It had to stop sooner or later,” Michael said.
But the athletic comparisons do not. Which explains why Michael’s first item of business in the aftermath of Saturday’s Georgia Tech loss was text-messaging Markee to inform him of the new leader in this year’s interception race.
The days of devoting countless hours to games and drills that would improve backpedaling and coverage skills have passed the Hamlins by.
Now the only way to make one another better is through motivational trash-talking.
“We have always tried to outwork the other,” Michael said. “I guess all those kinds of little games pay off in the end.”