ATLANTA -- Cousins by marriage, Georgia Tech quarterback Joe Hamilton and split end Harvey Middleton developed their timing in pickup games played on various fields and parking lots near Macedonia (S.C.) High School.
Hamilton was about age 13, Middleton 15, and each aspired to play on Saturday afternoon, before the TV cameras and delirious crowds.
On a given play, Hamilton would scramble right, motion for his receiver to break off his pattern, then heave a perfect spiral for a touchdown.
"Tony Rice!" Hamilton would exclaim, pretending to be the great Notre Dame quarterback from Moncks Corner, S.C.
"O.J. McDuffie!" Middleton would say, reminding everyone that he modeled himself after the Penn State All-American.
Little did Hamilton know that one day he would be a focal player on the field where Rice led Notre Dame to the 1988 national championship. And little did Middleton realize he would be introduced at Notre Dame Stadium as the defending ACC receiving leader.
"It's an exciting opportunity for the whole team, and we're going to try to make the most of it," said Hamilton, a third-year sophomore who'll lead the Yellow Jackets into Saturday's nationally televised season opener against the Fighting Irish in South Bend, Ind.
"I think with their tradition and our tradition, it's going to be a real fun game," added Middleton, a fifth-year senior. "It's a college kid's dream, a football player's dream, to play a team such as Notre Dame."
Hamilton grew up in Alvin, S.C., a few miles from Middleton's home in Jamestown. Joe's aunt is married to Harvey's uncle, and the two players bonded at a young age.
Both were standouts at Macedonia High, although they played together for only two years. Hamilton had a remarkable senior year in which he completed 99 of 176 passes for 17 touchdowns with no interceptions. Middleton, who played four years of basketball but only two of football, totaled 81 catches for 1,604 yards and 20 touchdowns.
By the time Hamilton completed his prep career as the South Carolina Player of the Year, Middleton was coming off his redshirt freshman season at Tech, where he was the fourth on the team in receptions with 18.
Hamilton chose Tech over Nebraska, which was coming off a national championship.
Last year, Hamilton won the starting quarterback job and immediately rediscovered his timing with Middleton, who had one of the best receiving seasons in Tech history with 64 receptions for 804 yards and three touchdowns.
"It was like clockwork because we played together for so long," Middleton said. "Sometimes he knew what I was going to do before I did."
Hamilton-to-Middleton was such a big part of the Tech offense that new offensive coordinator Ralph Friedgen placed a major emphasis during the off-season on diversifying the attack.
The return of flanker Derrick Steagall and running backs Charles Wiley and Phillip Rogers from injuries, along with the addition of speedy freshman receiver Dez White, should help.
"We're going to do some things different this year, but I don't want to elaborate on that just yet," Middleton said.
Even with an attack that spreads the ball around more, though, Middleton could become Tech's all-time leading receiver Saturday. After three seasons, including two as a starter, Middleton has 113 receptions for 1,452 yards and six touchdowns.
Middleton needs only three catches to surpass the school record held by Bobby Rodriguez (1989-92).