Originally created 11/05/99

Hamilton's run at the Heisman



ATLANTA -- Long after the final cheer on game day and far from an ever-pressing public, Joe Hamilton closes his eyes and envisions himself in a Heisman Trophy-like pose.

Body twisted and arm extended, he can see the statuette in his mind. But unlike running through a razor-thin hole or throwing a perfect pass 40 yards down field, the pose remains a daydream for one of the most gifted college football players in the country.

"Everybody's dream is to win the Heisman Trophy," the Georgia Tech quarterback said. "It's never been legitimate, though. It's been a long time since I used to think about it.

"I have tried to make the pose, though. I'm still trying to get it down. I'm still trying to look at things and view things on how to do it. I don't know which arm or which leg to put up. I'm a little confused about it right now."

So is the rest of college football.

When the season started, most critics insisted the Heisman Trophy, symbolic of the college player of the year, was Peter Warrick's to lose. The Florida State wide receiver, apparently, did just that when he was arrested with a teammate after police said he arranged to buy clothes from a department store clerk for dramatically reduced prices.

The vote, that seemed so tilted toward Warrick, now may be leaning toward Hamilton, the nation's top-rated passer.

"I was sad about the whole situation," Hamilton said of Warrick's problems. "It was a dent in college football. I feel sorry for his family and his teammates and everybody around him.

"You can't be a normal person and do anything you want, anytime you want. If you're an athlete, you're under different scrutiny. It's tragic it happened to him. It's tough for college football."

Hamilton, who travels with the seventh-ranked Yellow Jackets this Saturday to play Virginia, has avoided such pitfalls and now is in position to win an award named after a former Georgia Tech coach, John Heisman. His 66.7 yards a game leads the team in rushing, and his passing efficiency of 182.07 -- earned by completing 118 of 177 passes for 1,883 yards and 17 touchdowns -- is No. 1 in the nation.

The Tech athletic department has stepped up its efforts to spread the word on Hamilton as the official vote nears later this month. The sports information department sent out computer mouse pads and a compact disk on Hamilton during the preseason. They also host an hour-long telephone conference call to all reporters every Tuesday.

Whether Hamilton's success with voters -- he's now the favorite according to several polling services -- is the result of his play or a byproduct of a slick marketing plan isn't important to the 5-foot-10, 189-pound senior from Alvin, S.C.

"It's definitely team first," he said. "If I keep that in perspective that it's not for me, but for the team, then we'll be all right. I'm not focusing on the Heisman Trophy right now. We've got a lot of team goals we're trying to accomplish. That would be selfish on my part to think about any individual goals at this point of the season. I take it as it goes. It's all been what I've expected: nothing more, nothing less."

The Heisman Watch conducts a poll of six Heisman voters from six different regions -- Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Southeast, Southwest and Far West -- each week to gain an inside look at the favorites. In last week's poll, Hamilton received 24 of 36 first-place votes and had nearly double the total points as second-place Ron Dayne of Wisconsin.

Hamilton garnered 82 points in the random sampling of votes, while Dayne, who's poised to break Ricky Williams' all-time rushing records, had 45 votes. The rest included Alabama running back Shaun Alexander with 37 points, Purdue quarterback Drew Brees with 30 points, Penn State linebacker LaVar Arrington with 12 points, and Warrick and Marshall quarterback Chad Pennington with three points each.

Hamilton admits he studies the statistics of the other top players every week, as well as the progress of Buffalo Bills quarterback Doug Fluttie, who like Hamilton, has made a career out of proving size isn't the most important aspect of winning.

"It's impossible to completely stop thinking about it," Hamilton said. "The thing you've got to do is think about it at the right time. You have to think about it around people that know you're not really dwelling on it, around people who know it's not a priority in your life right now.

"I continue to let the guys know I'm here for the team first. I want team awards first. This can affect us team-wise if I start to think about it and they start to think about it."

That doesn't stop a guy from dreaming, though.

Reach Don Coble at doncoble@mindspring.com.