The Uncommitted: Darius Hamilton balances staying close and big names

Brian Falzarano | Saturday, January 21, 2012

New Jersey star has a big chance of going to Rutgers, but Miami is making a late push.

Darius Hamilton is likely to go with the home-state choice in Rutgers.
Photo by Vincent Carchietta
Darius Hamilton is likely to go with the home-state choice in Rutgers.
Editor's note: This is the sixth in a series of 20 leading up to National Signing Day that features Top 100 football recruits who have yet to announce their college plans. We're breaking down their finalists and predicting where each will wind up.

Uncommitted: Darius Hamilton
High school: Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.)
Position: DE/DT
Size: 6-foot-4, 250 pounds
Tom Lemming's Top 100: No. 29 overall (No. 4 DE)
Finalists (alphabetical): Florida, Miami, Rutgers
More Uncommitted: Trae Elston, Devin Fuller, Josh Garnett, D.J. Foster, Aziz Shittu

RAMSEY, N.J. – During what should be the most stressful days of an uncommitted Top 100 recruit's life, Darius Hamilton enters the Don Bosco Prep gym wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants backpack. Hours before taking the first of his final two official visits, he smiles and laughs a boyish laugh when others notice his choice in cartoon accessory to his school uniform.

Darius Hamilton, Don Bosco Prep
Photo by Daniel Coppola
Darius Hamilton, Don Bosco Prep
On Jan. 31, Hamilton will tell the world his college choice: Florida, Miami or Rutgers, though he has yet to officially visit the last two. But unlike the quarterbacks he harassed over the previous four seasons, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound defensive lineman and No. 29-ranked recruit in the Class of 2012 is calm, cool and pressure-free.

"It really comes down to what makes you happy because you've got to spend the next four years there," said Hamlton, a MaxPreps 2011 U.S. Air Force first-team All-American. "Just follow your heart and make the right decision."

Hamilton will stay in-state to officially check out Rutgers this weekend, though he is well-acquainted with the Scarlet Knights already, considering former Bosco quarterback Gary Nova emerged as a part-time starter this past season and this year's No. 90 recruit, Leonte Carroo, verbally pledged to attend New Jersey's state university last summer.

Next weekend, Hamilton will visit Miami – a newcomer to his final three that replaces Cal, which the All-American dropped when Tosh Lupoi left to coach at Washington.

Whichever team lands Hamilton will land perhaps the best defensive lineman in the storied history of Don Bosco Prep, a national champion two of the last three seasons. During the Ironmen's latest championship run, he rung up 74 tackles and 17 sacks – many against elite competition including Bergen Catholic, Manatee, Mission Viejo and St. Edward.

"Darius reminds an awful lot of people of his famous father," said CBS Sports recruiting expert Tom Lemming of former New York Giant Keith Hamilton. "He's a long-legged, long-armed, quick-footed and instinctive pass rusher."

Of the finalists, Hamilton visited Florida first and loved the combination of tradition, big-time atmosphere and the chance to get coached by former NFL All-Pro Bryant Young, Dan Quinn and defensive-minded head coach Will Muschamp. Former Ironmen defensive line standout Justin Trattou played there before latching on with the New York Giants.

Rutgers is closest in proximity, offers the opportunity to play for a rising power and secondary coach Jeff Hafley, then at Pittsburgh, gave him his first scholarship offer before his junior year's season opener. And he spoke glowingly about the "family atmosphere" fostered by head coach Greg Schiano.

As for Miami, despite the recent scandals swirling around the Hurricanes, Hamilton is a fan of defensive assistant coaches Jethro Franklin and Mark D'Onofrio and said, "I really feel they're going to turn things around."

Over the next 11 days, Hamilton will take his final official visits to Rutgers and Miami, respectively, before making his final decision, ending a stressful process he has handled without losing his senses of perspective or humor – the latter best exemplified by the SpongeBob SquarePants backpack he has been toting around Don Bosco Prep.

"It's something that you wish for as a kid and you're happy that it's happened to you, with all the work that you've put in," Hamilton said. "It's a fun experience overall."

With just 11 days until official signing day, here are the destinations Hamilton is considering and where we think he'll end up.

Florida (45 percent): Although the Gators went 7-6 last season, playing in "The Swamp" offers more of a big-time atmosphere than the other finalists. Plus there is defensive line coach Bryant Young, a four-time All-Pro, and Hamilton has grown close with players Trey Burton and Sharrif Floyd. Hamilton was told he would play end in the Gators' 3-4 set.

Rutgers (45 percent): Hamilton likes Jeff Hafley, the secondary coach who started recruiting him two years ago at Pittsburgh. He is most familiar with the Scarlet Knights' program since they are less than an hour from his Woodland Park, N.J. home.

Miami (10 percent): There is the chance that Hamilton will find something here that he didn't see at Florida or Rutgers. But the Hurricanes are a late bloomer here and, despite his affinity for the coaching staff, their short-term potential does not match his other two suitors' considering the recent scandals in Coral Gables.

Our Take: Hamilton said distance would not be a factor, but after hearing him talk about the coaching staff and "family atmosphere" we think he joins Carroo and Timber Creek linebacker Quanzell Lambert, another Top 100 recruit, as the centerpieces of Rutgers' 2012 recruiting class.