by Darren Hellwege
Last year’s homecoming victory over Oklahoma was one of the biggest wins in Tiger history, a moment nearly everyone in black and gold will remember with a smile for many, many years.
But it was a painful day for one of Mizzou’s best players. When Dominique Hamilton left the game with a broken foot, his junior season came to an abrupt and unwelcome end.
Saturday, Hamilton was among those smiling, as a day he must have been eagerly awaiting finally arrived: number 90 was back in the middle of the Tiger defensive line. Hamilton had eight tackles, including three solos, and grabbed a key fumble recovery late in the game as Mizzou beat Miami (Ohio) at Memorial Stadium 17-6.
“I was so excited to be back,” Hamilton said in a post game interview. “Me and Terrell (Resonno) were competing for tackles, we see who has the most tackles and have fun with it.” Chalk up a win in that competition for Hamilton as he had three more tackles than Resonno.
And when it looked as if the Redhawks might add to their meager six point total with a late run at the Tigers, it was Hamilton who snuffed out the Miami rally. A drive that started with just over three minutes left in the game took Miami inside Tiger territory. But another Tiger defensive lineman, sophomore end Braydon Burnett, hit Redhawks quarterback Zac Dysert in the backfield, forcing a fumble which Hamilton recovered to put the Tiger victory on ice.
But playing the tackle position is about more than just statistics. “We get ‘warrior points’ out there. We have a gap to fill and even if the ball goes off the other way, we still have to fill our gap.” Given that the Redhawks averaged just 2.1 yards per carry, it can be said that Hamilton, Resonno and the rest of the Tiger line were ringing up warrior points all day long.
In spite of having just played in what felt like a convection oven (game time temperature was 90 degrees, the heat index more than 100) Hamilton seemed fresh after the game and looked ready to go play another game.
That’s partly due to the excitement about returning to the field after a long layoff, but also because of very liberal use of substitutions throughout the game. Tiger coach Gary Pinkel said that they used a six-player rotation at the tackle position and outstanding backups Lucas Vincent and Sheldon Richardson contributed tackles. “We’ve got depth for days,” said Hamilton of the Tigers’ collection of talented defensive linemen.
But it’s starters Hamilton and Resonno who will most give opposing linemen, running backs and quarterbacks very few chances to smile. The two aren’t just the best tackles on the team, but the seniors are close friends and seem to play as a perfectly suited pair. “I think we just like working with each other,” Hamilton said.
They make a formidable combo, each around 300 pounds and both standing 6 feet 5 inches tall. And they play a position many don’t notice or understand well. But it was obvious last year how important Hamilton is to the club’s success. Mizzou was undefeated before his injury and went 3-3 in the games after.
Hamilton didn’t just sit and sulk during his time recovering from the injury. He said the time off deepened his understanding of the game. “I stood there listening as Coach (Pat) Ivey critiqued players, I stood there listening the whole time. I think that helps, it helps a lot.” (Ivey is MU’s strength and conditioning coach.)
He’s not through listening to coaches, although some may be a little more fierce in expressing themselves. Told by one of the other linemen that Mizzou defensive coordinator had given the defense a chewing out following an extended drive by the Redhawks in the first half, I asked Hamilton about the sometimes fearsome Dave Steckel, who served in the U.S Marines. “It always comes back to that military attitude. I really think that works. We can be up by 30 points, he doesn’t want any smiling on the sidelines, not until the games over and we got the job done.”
Did Hamilton’s big smile following Mizzou’s opener mean that he’d gotten the job done? “Oh, yeah, I definitely feel like I did mine!”
And past experience indicates that if he continues to do his job throughout the season, the Tigers will benefit greatly. And Dominique Hamilton will be smiling an awful lot in 2011.