Jakar Hamilton doesn't like the kid that he was just a couple of years ago. A slacker, and a smart alec, Hamilton had no problem back-talking his mother, disregarding his schoolwork and settling into a life of waste.
"I never did have to pull him from fights or go to the jail to get him," Hamilton's mother, Tracey Hamilton said. "But I remember telling him, 'Jakar, you have favor on your life, God-given talent, don't throw that away.' "
Hamilton, from Edgefield, S.C., thinks his mom is being a bit easy on him. Before going to Georgia Military College, he wasn't the kind of kid to stand up straight, look you in the eyes, and give you a handshake firm enough that you know you're meeting a man. Nor was he the kind of committed student-athlete to earn a scholarship to Georgia and the praise of its head coach.
Now, Hamilton greets people like a polite warrior, with a broad smile and the humble understanding that his mom was right, favor was on his life. He's committed to everything he does now -- whether in the classroom or in the weight room. And that's gotten the attention of coach Mark Richt, who thinks Hamilton might just be one of the jewels of his recruiting class.
"GMC did a lot for me," said Hamilton, who played his high school ball at Strom Thurmond. "It taught me how to be a man, to take responsibility for my actions, to be disciplined. And the mentor program, Choices, was a big part of my success, really ever since I moved from Houston.
"I was a kid that argued with my mom all the time, didn't care about academics. What you see now is a whole different me. I want to do the right thing and like my mom tells me, I need to take care of my business."
Tim Johnson, co-director of Choices and Hamilton's mentor, agreed that mom was sugarcoating it a bit.
"Jakar wasn't a bad kid in that he'd be on the streets, getting in trouble with the law, but he'd miss practice, talk back to the teacher, disappear when he was supposed to be doing something at home. He needed a boot camp, and a boot in the (butt).
Like most students, Hamilton wasn't thrilled with GMC at first. It was hard. It was requiring things from him that until that point, he'd not been willing to give.
"He'd call home at first, and just whine about how hard it was and what they were making him do," Tracy Hamilton said. "And his grandfather would say: 'Stop the whining and be a man, Jakar!' "
Then he'd call Johnson, and whine some more.
"I told him to man up, start following directions and that if he could do that, he could become a leader at GMC and be telling others what to do instead of always being told what to do. He quit calling me for a while, then when he did call me, he said, 'Guess what? I'm a platoon leader.'
"The light bulb came on, and it was a done deal."
GMC coach Bert Williams is thrilled with the type of player and person Hamilton has become.
"Most of the transformation had taken place before I got him," Williams said. "I recruited him in the fall, and he didn't come then. He came in January. I think he did some growing up during that time because he hit the ground running for me and stayed motivated. Georgia's got a good one."
Hamilton has made quite an impression on his new coaches, too. It's not often that a newcomer is praised before even his first practice. But both Richt and defensive backs coach Scott Lakatos have taken notice of Hamilton.
"I don't know a lot about the old Jakar, but getting to know him and his family now, they're just wonderful people," Richt said. "He has made a big impression on us in the weight room with the way he competes and the attitude that he has."
Lakatos said he knew just by watching film that Hamilton was a special player. But film doesn't show work ethic in practice, leadership or attitude. So Lakatos wasn't sure what he was getting.
"In just a few workouts, seeing him work and listening to his teammates and other coaches talk about him, it's impressive," he said.
Those words sound nice to Tracey Hamilton. She is a big-time Georgia fan, a Richt fan, and she was -- and still is -- a Willie Martinez fan.
"Coach Martinez had become like family to us," she said. "But I told coach Richt, 'You've got to do what you've got to do.' He had to take care of his business just like we're asking Jakar to do."