By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In the quest for depth, Woodrow Hamilton could be a very important part of the Ole Miss defensive line this fall.
Hamilton, though, believes he can do more than provide depth. He believes he can start.
Defensive line coach Chris Kiffin tells his players there are no starters right now, and that fuels the passion for Hamilton, a redshirt freshman, to get on the field for the first time.
“To be honest, I want it. I want to show them I want it. I want to do so great. Like it’s unexplainable, but I see myself as a one, because I don’t see myself under nobody,” he said.
For much of spring drills, Hamilton was under nobody. Injuries to Bryon Bennett and Uriah Grant allowed Hamilton the opportunity spend most of the time running first team.
Bennett is back, and Grant is returning from shoulder surgery.
Hamilton goes into August camp – which begins Saturday – listed second to Bennett, a third-year sophomore, at defensive tackle.
Hamilton (6-foot-3, 295) played both tackle and nose in the spring, a plan that will continue. He could be a starter at neither position but a factor at both.
“Bryon was our starter heading into spring, Bryon got hurt, and Woody was rotating back and forth. Depending how it goes in the summer, I’m going to give him the opportunity to play both spots and see how it pans out,” Kiffin said.
Bennett appeared in 12 games last year, starting eight, and finished with 15 tackles, 2.5 behind the line and one quarterback pressure.
The starter at nose tackle going into camp is Gilbert Pena, a senior who appeared in 10 games last year, his first as a junior college transfer.
Grant’s injury underscores the need for versatility at the down spots. Kiffin says he wants his players to be able to switch out among the two spots, and the techniques involved make them “completely different positions,” he said.
Carlton Martin, a third-year sophomore like Bennett, his former high school teammate, is another young player competing for playing time. He registered seven tackles and two pressures in 11 games last year.
Hamilton was a Class 4A all-state player at Raleigh and ranked among the top 25 recruits in Mississippi.
“He’s a hard worker, and he’s coachable,” linebacker Mike Marry said. “He listens to the older players who have played the position, and he’s going to make a big impact in the trenches.”
Hamilton says it’s important for him to make a big impact early in camp.
“I’m trying to come in strong and let everybody know I love what I do, and I do what I love, which is playing for Ole Miss,” he said.
If he stays healthy there will be a lot of playing in Hamilton’s future.
“I’ve been pleased with Woody. He’s going to be an All-SEC player one day. He’s a pup. He’s got to come along,” Kiffin said.