OXFORD – Ole Miss has been without one of its best defensive linemen since the start of camp but has replaced him, perhaps, with one of its best unknowns.
Third-year sophomore Woodrow Hamilton is drawing raves from his coaches as he runs first team at nose tackle and tries to work his way onto the field.
Hamilton appeared in eight games last season and likely would have played more had he not been slowed by an ankle injury.
Even when healthy last year, there was the improving senior Gilbert Pena to contend with. Pena became a solid run-stopper in the middle but was somewhat limited with his lateral movement.
“Woody Hamilton’s an athletic guy. I love Gilbert Pena, but Woody can do a lot of things that Gilbert couldn’t do,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack says.
Hamilton can also do things that Issac Gross can’t do. Gross, a freshman All-American at nose tackle last season with 10 tackles for loss, has yet to practice.
When healthy Gross wins with superior quickness. Hamilton adds 50 pounds to the position when he’s in the game.
“I just love Woody, love his attitude, love his work ethic. The guy’s still a pup. He’s a 305-pound pup,” defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. “He’s so physically dominant.”
Hamilton, a third-year sophomore from Raleigh, had nine tackles, a sack and 1.5 tackles for loss last year.
He doesn’t need his coaches’ praise to know he’s having a good camp.
He calls his growth “major” but is careful to discuss his game in a spirit of humility.
He looks around sees newcomers who are just as hungry as he is and doesn’t want them to derail his progress.
“That probably affects me more than I would know,” Hamilton said. “Coach brought in some great, great, great D linemen.
Knowing there’s somebody behind me just as good or who can be better than me makes me go harder than I expect myself.”
The anonymity is nothing new for Hamilton. He was ranked among the top players in Mississippi, not among the elite in the nation, coming out of Raleigh.
He wasn’t the most wellknown Raleigh player of his class to sign with Ole Miss.
That was Donte Moncrief.
“He’s just a good, old country kid,” Kiffin says.
One on a mission to be a major factor for Ole Miss.
“The progress I’m making, watching film every day, coming out here and working hard, getting in shape, adjusting to the speed … Those were problems I had last year that I do not have now. I think I will (be a factor),” he said.
“Once the season gets here everybody will know.”
HAPPY FREEZE: Monday’s workout pleased Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze: “I felt like for the most part it was our best day yet.”
The Rebels will be in full pads today for the first time, starting at 9:45 a.m.