Eagle two-time All-America linebacker couldn’t play in 2009 and in EWU’s National Championship season in 2010 because of knee injuries, but now is on the cusp of the school's career tackles record
Ronnie Hamlin has made up for lost time, and now the Buck Buchanan Award candidate will get one more season to make it count.
Nearing the school record with a current career total of 361 tackles in 40 games (37 as a starter), the Eastern Washington University linebacker will return for the 2014 season after recently being given a sixth year by the NCAA to replace two other seasons wiped out because of injuries. He is a 2009 graduate of Timberline High School in Lacey, Wash., and earned second team All-America and All-Big Sky honors in 2013 for the Eagles.
Eastern announced its 2014 recruiting class a month ago, and one month from today (April 4) Hamlin and his teammates will begin spring practice. But Eastern head coach Beau Baldwin is as excited as ever in March to announce the addition of a player voted by his teammates as a co-captain in 2013.
“He might be the best recruit in the class – he’s a special player,” said a beaming Baldwin. “It’s great to have him back from a talent standpoint and a leadership standpoint as a team captain. He brings so much to our program on and off the field – 365 days a year – and he does things right. It’s neat to see a decision like this made for such a quality player and person like Ronnie.”
Hamlin is third in school history with 361 tackles, and the only players ahead of him are Greg Belzer (399 from 1997-00) and J.C. Sherritt (432 from 2007-10). Hamlin is just 71 tackles from Sherritt, who is third in Big Sky history and ranks 15th in FCS history.
Hamlin originally hurt his left knee just on Sept. 2, 2009 – just three days before EWU began its season. He had surgery to repair the anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 21, but then tore the ACL again during spring practice on April 24, 2010. He had surgery on June 17, then didn’t hit the practice field again until spring of 2011.
He finished with 85 tackles his first season, 136 in 2012 and 140 last season to rank as the fourth-most in school history. Most importantly, he has helped lead the Eagles to a 29-11 record overall and 20-4 Big Sky Conference mark with a pair of league titles and two appearances in the semifinals of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Playoffs. This past season, he finished 12th in the voting for the Buck Buchanan Award presented by The Sports Network to the top defensive player in FCS.
“It was tough on Ronnie,” recalled Baldwin of the 2009 and 2010 seasons. “We were thinking he could play right away, and then all of the sudden he was injured. We knew he would fight through it, but a year later he was injured again.
“It was a challenge – not so much for us but more so for him,” he continued. “That injury is tough to go through once, but to go through it a second time can create some doubts in the heads of a lot of players. It was back-to-back years with the same injury, and a long rehabilitation process.
“But that was a credit to his mental toughness and his desire to play football, be a student and graduate from Eastern,” added Baldwin. “He just kept grinding through it the second time and never felt sorry for himself. He went out and attacked it.”
In exactly a month – on April 4 – the Eagles will return to the red turf at Roos Field for the start of spring practices. Baldwin and his team are anxious for that – as well as seeing the No. 39 jersey of Hamlin on the field again.
“We’re anxious to see the snow melt away and we’ll hit April rolling,” said Baldwin. “The players are ready for it. Don’t get me wrong, there are things we have to do between now and then to be ready for the start of spring practice. But you hit a certain point in March and they are anxious. During winter conditioning they are inside, it is dark outside for most of the day, there is snow on the ground and they are lifting and running. To their credit, they go outside and do things on their own, even in the cold. But they are excited to get back into real football mode and practice mode, no doubt about it.”
More on Ronnie Hamlin, Linebacker, Senior – Buck Buchanan Award Candidate (12th in the Voting)
* Hamlin was among the 43 winners selected on the 16th annual NCAA Football Championship Subdivision Athletics Directors Association (FCS ADA) Academic All-Star Team at the conclusion of the 2013 season. He has a 3.54 grade point average as a technology major, and three times has earned Big Sky Conference All-Academic honors. He earned second team All-America honors in 2013 after finishing with 140 tackles to rank as the fourth-most in Eastern history, and had 136 in the 2012 season (now ranking sixth) when he earned fourth team All-America accolades. He was a first team All-Big Sky selection in 2012 and a second team choice in 2013. His average of 9.71 tackles per game in 2012 ranked 31st in FCS and fourth in the Big Sky. In 2013, he averaged 9.33 tackles to rank 36th in FCS and eighth in the league.
* Hamlin has 361 tackles already in his 40-game EWU career (37 starts) to rank third in school history. His 140 tackles in 2013 rank as the fourth-most in school history, and he has had 17 performances with at least 10 tackles in his career.
* Hamlin also has four career interceptions, and his momentum-changing 77-yard return for a touchdown against North Dakota (10/12/13) was the 10th-longest in school history. With UND driving for a potential game-tying score late in the third quarter, he leaped high to snag the third interception of his career, ran over one would-be tackler, then returned it down the sideline for his first pick-six as an Eagle. He also had a diving interception against Idaho State (11/2/13) to squelch an ISU drive and lead to an EWU TD and 45-27 lead.
* Hamlin had 10 tackles or more in eight games in 2013, including the last five games of the season. He injured his shoulder in the first half against Jacksonville State on (12/14/13) and wasn’t expected back, but started the second half and finished with the second-most tackles in his career with 15.
* Hamlin’s long hair has been a trademark of his, and a friendly wager between teammates lasted three years. During the 2010 season, Hamlin and safety Jeff Minnerly challenged each other to see who could go the longest without cutting their hair. Linebacker Zach Johnson was also in on the wager, but dropped out after EWU won the NCAA Division I title. Minnerly eventually cut his hair on Dec. 17, 2012 -- just two days after his career and the 2012 season concluded -- and donated the hair to Locks of Love. Hamlin has continued to let his hair grow.