Damar Hamlin had each soccer program within the nation recruiting him throughout his senior yr at Pittsburgh’s Central Catholic, his expertise and upside sufficient to make him an undisputed four-star prospect and ESPN’s No. 2 defensive participant in Pennsylvania.
Late in that 2015 season, Hamlin took a success to the aspect of his knee in opposition to Penn-Trafford within the WPIAL Class 4A district championship, and coaches determined to carry him out the following week in a state quarterfinal in opposition to State College as a precaution. But that was not going to maintain him off the sector.
Hamlin begged his coaches to let him do one thing to assist. His defensive coordinator on the time, Dave Fleming, put it extra bluntly.
“After being a pain in the butt about it, we let him carry the water bottles,” Fleming recalled in a cellphone interview.
So there Hamlin stood, captain of the soccer crew, elite prospect with presents from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Penn State, Pittsburgh and lots of others, actually carrying water for his teammates. Because he needed to be there for them. Because there was no different method.
“Unbelievable,” Fleming mentioned. “Most kids in high school, they don’t want to watch their buddies go out there when they’re hurt, but Damar wouldn’t let it go. He wanted to be involved. He wanted to be a part of it in any way that he could.”
This is only one story amongst many Hamlin’s mates, teammates and coaches shared this week, within the hours and days for the reason that Buffalo Bills second-year security suffered cardiac arrest after making a deal with within the first quarter of a sport in opposition to the Cincinnati Bengals on Monday evening. But the story completely encapsulates what makes Hamlin the person all of them know and love: his selflessness, his humility, his need to assist others, his love for his teammates and neighborhood, his real capacity to guide with out having to say one phrase.
Carrying water bottles spoke for him.
“He’s the pride of his family,” mentioned Terry Totten, Hamlin’s highschool coach. “He’s the pride of McKees Rocks. He’s the pride of Central Catholic and the University of Pittsburgh, all because he does everything in such a humble, giving way.”
During his time at Central Catholic, located lower than a mile from the University of Pittsburgh, Hamlin was decided to be not solely the toughest employee on the crew but in addition a task mannequin for his youthful brother, Damir, and so many others in his neighborhood within the city of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania.
Located simply exterior Pittsburgh, McKees Rocks is a small neighborhood with a inhabitants slightly below 6,000 that has among the many highest crime charges within the state. Hamlin has misplaced many childhood mates to gun violence, solely bolstering his conviction to present again and signify his hometown in a optimistic method.
“I’ve got so many friends who didn’t even make it to 21,” Hamlin advised author Tyler Dunne in 2021. “It’s crazy.”
Hamlin has by no means forgotten the place he comes from — on his proper biceps is a tattoo with the road title of his childhood dwelling — Gray Street.
“Ever since we were 16 years old, one of his biggest goals was to give back to his community,” mentioned John Petrishen, who performed with Hamlin at Central Catholic, at Pitt and briefly with the Bills.
“They view him as a hero in McKees Rocks,” Petrishen mentioned. “He is the perfect role model for the kids of that community to look up to, and he has given back so much. He has fulfilled his promise, which speaks volumes way more than what he does on the field.”
Prior to their sport, the Sabres and Capitals maintain a second of assist for Damar Hamlin and his household.
The toy drive Hamlin organized has raised over $7 million since Monday, drawing consideration from world wide, however there are different methods Hamlin has led others which are simply as impactful.
That similar highschool season, Central Catholic misplaced a sport to fellow native powerhouse North Allegheny. When Fleming pulled into the car parking zone the following day, he noticed all the crew gathered on the sector. Fleming panicked, pondering he was late for the 9 a.m. apply.
He checked out his watch. It was 7:30 a.m. Hamlin had compelled all the crew to point out up early. Central Catholic wouldn’t lose one other sport, ending 15-1.
“For all those kids to be there was something to be said about his leadership and his desire,” Fleming mentioned.
Just days after Central Catholic received the 4A state championship in soccer, Hamlin was on the basketball courtroom, fulfilling one other promise. Despite all these soccer presents, Hamlin needed to play hoops his junior and senior years as a result of he cherished the sport and since he needed to assist his college win.
“It speaks volumes for him, because a lot of kids will just sort of fade away and say, ‘You know what, I don’t want to get hurt. I don’t want to do this,'” mentioned Chuck Crummie, Hamlin’s basketball coach and athletic director at Central Catholic. “But every time he walked into a sports arena or onto a court or a field, I think he just felt that he could help and that’s what he was supposed to do.”
Although Hamlin fielded presents from throughout the nation, he narrowed his record to colleges inside a four-hour radius of Pittsburgh, saying it was vital that his household be capable of attend each sport. Ultimately, he narrowed his ultimate three to Ohio State, Penn State and Pitt.
Hamlin selected Pitt not solely as a result of he may keep near dwelling however as a result of he felt a reference to coach Pat Narduzzi. Hamlin was the highest-ranked participant in Pitt’s 2016 class, the primary full class Narduzzi signed at Pittsburgh. Seven years later, Hamlin left an impression even on those that didn’t win his dedication.
“He’s a great kid with a great family,” mentioned Wisconsin coach Luke Fickell, who recruited Hamlin whereas an assistant at Ohio State. “He was such a loyal kid that he wanted to stay home and take care of his city. I wanted him really bad because I thought he was such a good ‘culture’ kid as well — he was a tough-ass fighter.”
Added longtime Penn State defensive recruiting coordinator and cornerbacks coach Terry Smith, who grew up simply exterior Pittsburgh in Aliquippa: “With the Pittsburgh guys, you form a bond. But Damar is different. He’s got a warm spirit to him, and a genuine light shines around him. I don’t know anyone that ever wished anything bad upon Damar. He’s that kind of person, he’s just easy to root for and easy to cheer for. The Penn State nation is praying for him.”
Once Hamlin arrived at Pitt, adversity hit pretty early. He was slowed by accidents his first few seasons, beginning 4 video games mixed in 2016-17, and shortly needed to be taught and settle for that the heightened expectations he had for himself would take time to materialize. Bam Bradley, a senior when Hamlin was a freshman in 2016, recalled having conversations with Hamlin about tips on how to deal with the ups and downs he was going through.
“It’s a testament to how humble he is that he was so receptive to it,” Bradley mentioned this week. “I haven’t spoken to him about how those specific conversations impacted him. I hope that they did help him to cope with what he was going through.”
Hamlin would get well from the early frustration to change into one of many Panthers’ unquestioned leaders, a crew captain who would additionally become an All-ACC decide — and NFL prospect — as a senior. Perhaps the early struggles helped Hamlin perceive extra deeply what it meant to be there for his teammates. Pitt security Brandon Hill, who simply completed his Pitt profession, credit Hamlin for serving to develop him into the participant he’s in the present day.
When Hill discovered he can be making his first profession begin in opposition to Florida State in 2020, he mentioned Hamlin would drive to the freshman dorms each evening to ensure Hill had all of the performs proper. He credit Hamlin for instructing him the best approach to watch movie.
Hill began reverse Hamlin in opposition to the Seminoles, however reasonably than really feel pregame nerves, he says he felt a way of calm with Hamlin proper subsequent to him.
“I had a comfortable feeling playing out there with Damar, like everything was going to be OK, no matter what,” Hill mentioned.
Both Hamlin and Hill logged interceptions in that sport. Hill ended up with the kind of first begin gamers dream of — eight tackles, a pressured fumble and a 50-yard interception return for a landing to win ACC Defensive Back of the Week.
No dialog about Hamlin goes far with out point out of his household, and his youthful brother particularly. Damir Hamlin, 7, has been a staple at practices and within the locker room for so long as he has been alive.
Damar Hamlin has at all times doted on “Mir,” as he’s affectionately referred to as, usually sitting him in his lap throughout interviews and ensuring he is included in all the pieces he does.
“He was like a little brother to everybody,” Petrishen mentioned of Damir. “There’s such an age gap, he really looks up to Damar. And Damar was a great role model and bigger brother for him. He was almost sort of like a father figure. He thinks the world of Damar.”
Their mother, Nina, runs a day care that was a beneficiary of the primary toy fundraiser Hamlin began in 2020 — properly earlier than title, picture and likeness provisions made it simpler for faculty athletes to earn and lift cash.
“This was just him deciding, this is what I want to do,” Bradley mentioned. “It’s clear to see the kind of man that he is if you pay attention, but it’s just things like that that show this is who he is: He’s about people and about community and about family.”
That nature goes past the toy drives. Hamlin returns to Pittsburgh for youth soccer camps regularly, together with these held at Central Catholic. The previous two summers, Hamlin and several other NFL gamers from Pittsburgh ran a camp referred to as “PGH to the Pros.” Carolina Panthers security Kenny Robinson Jr. — a part of the camp with Hamlin, Philadelphia Eagles working again Miles Sanders, Washington Commanders linebacker Khaleke Hudson and former Los Angeles Rams security Paris Ford — mentioned that they had 250 campers final yr.
“It sends a powerful message to the kids that it’s possible, that you and your friends can do whatever [they] want,” Robinson mentioned. “We all had the same dreams as them. So we all feel like, just coming together, we could make an even bigger event and better camp for the kids.”
Hamlin’s personal rise from Pittsburgh to the professionals, and from a sixth-round decide to a starter in Buffalo, has not stunned those that know him finest.
“He was a pro far before he was a professional athlete,” mentioned Cincinnati Bengals lengthy snapper Cal Adomitis, who performed with Hamlin at Central Catholic and Pitt. “The way he handled the offseason and the weight room stuff and film study and all the smaller things that don’t always get the most attention, all of that led you to believe that if he got the chance, he was going to make the most of it.”
What occurred Monday evening has shaken all the nation, however particularly those that know, love and care about Hamlin. Adomitis mentioned the 2 were able to give each other a brief hug when the Bills got here onto the sector Monday evening, and promised to catch up when the sport was over.
When Hamlin initially went down, Adomitis had no thought who was damage. When one other former Pitt participant, Tyler Boyd, came to visit and advised him what had occurred, Adomitis was in a state of shock.
“All you could think was, this can’t be true,” Adomitis mentioned in a cellphone interview. “I just started to pray for him. There was such a feeling of helplessness, too, just the worst feeling, not knowing what to do, basically.”
The prayers haven’t stopped since Hamlin collapsed on the sector Monday, and they’ll proceed within the hopes that Hamlin shall be ready not solely to guide a traditional life once more however to guide one that would probably lead him again to soccer if he chooses.
But even when he by no means performs one other down, there isn’t any denying what he means to McKees Rocks and Pittsburgh and now Buffalo and to each life he has touched alongside the best way.
“The world,” Fleming mentioned, “is a much better place with Damar Hamlin in it.”