After a long and memorable career in a Mean Green uniform, senior defensive end LaDarius Hamilton is faced with the last two games of his college career. Four years at North Texas has led the 6-foot-3 edge rusher hoping to finish strong.
It all began in 2016 when newly hired head coach Seth Littrell made the decision to drive 252 miles from Denton, Texas to Corrigan, Texas to recruit a multi-faceted high school athlete.
During his freshman year of high school, head coach Seven Armstrong started Hamilton at offensive tackle and gave him playing time at defensive end. Out of necessity, he was moved to middle linebacker. Adding onto that, Hamilton received snaps at tight end, long snapper and in some cases, kicker.
“When recruiters came in they kept asking, ‘Do you think [Hamilton]’s an inside linebacker, outside linebacker or defensive end?’” Armstrong said. “I basically told them he could play where he was told to play. I thought he would be a good pass rusher and evidently he is.”
Hamilton grew up in his high school’s athletic facilities watching his father run track and his uncle play football. In Armstrong’s eyes, it seemed only right that he would be able to coach the up-and-coming generation of the Hamilton lineage.
“I’ve known [Hamilton] since he was born,” Armstrong said. “I coached his daddy, I’ve known the young man since he was very very tiny and I watched him grow up from a shy little kid that hid behind his daddy’s leg into the man that he is today. LaDarius was never one that was hard to get to work, he enjoyed the weight room. He led by example, you can’t expect somebody else to work harder than they’ve ever worked in their life if you won’t do it. He also expected other people to work as hard as he did.”
All Hamilton did was smile when he reflected on his high school career. He emphasized that being around his high school’s football team since he was a kid engrained the love for the game of football at a young game.
“I got to do a little bit of everything, it was fun getting to experience a lot of different positions,” Hamilton said. “Being around the team I got to go into the field house and be around all the players and stuff, so it just created that love for the game from a very young age. Seeing somebody I really looked up to play in that blue and black, so it was definitely a lot of fun.”
Hamilton was named to the first-team all-district team as a junior and senior and came out of high school as a 3-star strong side end, according to 247Sports composite. When it came time for recruiting, Littrell saw Hamilton’s potential and inevitably brought him on as part of his first recruiting class for North Texas with intentions to play him as an edge rusher.
“[Hamilton] loved ball, he was very passionate and you could tell he really had the leadership skills to step in and we had high expectations for him,” Littrell said. “Probably more developed than a lot of guys in that class and he was just passionate about ball. I don’t care how many stars you have, a lot of those guys will be successful because of their passion and he definitely had that.”
In terms of on and off the field work, Hamilton was up for the position change and established himself as a leader right away. At the end of his first season, he was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team after making 13 in-game appearances (nine tackles, six solo and one sack). The following season Hamilton was voted to be one of the team captains, further cementing his leadership role with the team. He made a leap in his second season by starting eight of 14 games and recording 40 tackles (22 solo). The sophomore also managed to tally four tackles for loss and his first interception and fumble recovery.
Hamilton’s junior year found the team starting 4-0 with a notable 44-17 win over Arkansas that featured a fake punt return that went viral. Two weeks later, on Sept. 29, 2018, North Texas unveiled a statue of “Mean” Joe Greene to honor the NFL Hall of Famer ahead of their conference opener against Louisiana Tech. With the chance of maintaining an undefeated season, Hamilton wore Greene’s retired jersey number (75) for the game against the Bulldogs. When it came to wearing an immortalized number like 75, Greene helped Hamilton relax ahead of that night’s game.
“When they first told me [Greene] said I could wear the jersey I was like, ‘This has got to be a joke, right?’” Hamilton said. “We get to the game and I put it on and I’m wearing the jersey just standing there like, ‘This is crazy.’ So I go out and I see he’s sitting there by the gate and he tells me, ‘Man just relax, I’ve had a lot of good games in that jersey and I also had some bad ones, just go out there and play.’ So that kind of eased the nerves and the tension of the game but at the same time, this is Mean Joe’s jersey so it was definitely a great experience and a huge honor to wear that jersey.”
Hamilton finished the game with one tackle and an assist. However, he didn’t doubt that he left everything on the field in his performance against the Bulldogs.
“It’s tough to be the first person to wear No. 75 since [Greene] and then we don’t go out there and get the win, but I mean at the end of the day I was satisfied with my efforts and I felt like I played hard, so there’s no regrets there,” Hamilton said.
In light of Hamilton’s senior year coming to an end, he still aims to leave an impact and a legacy. Hamilton intends to continue to strive to produce big games and lead his team to another potential bowl game. Although he is zeroed in on the final two games remaining in the season, he has plans to begin training after the season ends to see what he can do at the next level.
“[Hamilton] has and always will be an anchor for that defense,” senior quarterback Mason Fine said. “It’s nice when you’re a quarterback and you might be in a rut on offense knowing that [Hamilton] is playing with you and you don’t have to play against him, I go against him every day in practice and I’m glad on Saturday’s he’s on my team, so it’s a nice little security blanket to have on the other side of the ball. He’ll practice at 110 mph, which will translate to Saturday, so you’ll see him making big time plays and I don’t expect [anything] less from him in these last two games.”
Featured Image: Senior defensive end Ladarius Hamilton beats his chest and yells after completing a sack at the game against Texas-El Paso on Nov. 2, 2019. Image by Jordan Collard