Hamilton rises under spotlight
Arkansas wide receiver Cobi Hamilton (left) already has caught a school-record 69 passes this season and has now set his sights on a new yardage record for the Razorbacks with three games left.
LITTLE ROCK When Arkansas’ “big four” receivers dwindled to one, Cobi Hamilton became the man.
Hamilton has not disappointed.
The senior from Texarkana, Texas, is threatening almost every receiving record in the Arkansas books, many of them set last season by Jarius Wright.
Hamilton has caught a school-record 69 passes this year, and the Biletnikoff Award nominee is on the brink of a new receiving yardage record as the Razorbacks prepare for Saturday’s SEC game at South Carolina.
“The only thing on my mind, I knew I was going to be the guy and I didn’t want to let anybody down,” Hamilton said. “This is the Cobi Hamilton they wanted in the preseason, and hopefully I can keep giving it to them.”
Hamilton, 6-3, 209 pounds, ranks fourth in the NCAA with 119.7 receiving yards per game. Take away the season opener against Jacksonville State — in which he was knocked out in the first quarter after getting two catches for 13 yards — and Hamilton’s average would be 133 yards per game.
He eclipsed Wright’s single-season receptions record last week, and with 1,077 receiving yards, he’s 40 yards shy of Wright’s school-record total from last season.
Wright, now a rookie with the Minnesota Vikings, sent Hamilton a congratulatory text earlier this week and continues to keep up with his friend’s exploits.
“He shot me a text and said to keep balling, keep doing what you do, and I’ll see you in the league next year,” Hamilton said.
“I knew he could do it,” Wright told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette via social media. “Me and Cobi are great friends and he always listened when I was trying to teach.
“I’m glad he was able to accomplish my records. It’s an honor to even say I had records.”
Arkansas receivers coach Kris Cinkovich said Hamilton’s work in the weight room in the offseason helped him develop another part of his game.
“He’s obviously been a good player here, but most of his stuff was down the field, top-end stuff that he kind of came here with,” Cinkovich said. “Where I think he’s improved himself is he’s gotten stronger. He’s gotten a little quicker, so he now can catch the short and intermediate ball and get away from people, and obviously we need to hit him deep, too.”
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Hamilton’s record run is not surprising, considering the circumstances entering the season.
“I thought it needed to happen because you don’t have Jarius, Joe [Adams], Chris Gragg, Greg Childs, so when you don’t have all those guys, it gives him a better chance to make it,” Petrino said. “I said at the end of the spring and the end of two-a-days that Cobi was going to have a big year. I’m really proud of him. ... He needs to have three big games here in a row to finish it off right and set that thing so high that no one ever touches it.”
SEC Network analyst Andre Ware, commenting on Hamilton’s 41-yard catch against tight man coverage that set up Arkansas’ go-ahead touchdown against Tulsa last week, said Hamilton reminds him of wideout Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans in terms of “the speed, the size and the hands to go along with it.”
Hamilton has 2,596 career receiving yards and needs to average 113 yards per game to surpass Wright’s record of 2,934 yards.
In the six full games in which Hamilton and quarterback Tyler Wilson have been healthy, Hamilton has 59 catches for 951 yards and 3 touchdowns, an average of 9.8 receptions and 158.5 yards per game.
“I always felt it’s important to have one receiver that you have a really good relationship with, as far as when you’re in trouble, get it in their hands, find a way to have that safety valve, and that’s Cobi for me,” Wilson said. “He’s done an incredible job and he’s going to have a chance to make his name high in those books.”
Hamilton said he regrets that his performances — most notably a 303-yard game in a loss to Rutgers — have come in a season in which Arkansas has struggled to a 4-5 record.
“It’s not really what you want,” he said. “When you have a big year, you have all these honors and everybody looking up to you and you want everyone to be happy.”
South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier, who generally doesn’t study opposing offensive players, is well aware of Hamilton.
“Certainly we’ve been reading about him and we know he’s one of the best in the nation, if not the best, Spurrier said. “We’ve got to figure out where he’s at and try to get some coverage on him because he’s having a sensational, All-American type year.”
South Carolina defensive assistant Kirk Botkin, a former Arkansas player and assistant coach who helped recruit Hamilton for the Hogs in 2008, had strong praise for Hamilton, as well as Hamilton’s parents, Gene and Deborah.
“Quality, quality kid,” Botkin said. “I can’t say enough good things about him, not only as a player, but as a person.
“He plays the game the way you want your kids to play it. He’s hard-nosed and he’s tough.”
Information for this article contributed by Bob Holt of the
Sports, Pages 19 on 11/09/2012