Originally created 01/01/00

Hamilton leads the way for Ga. Tech



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- For a player who set school and conference records for total offense, finished second in the Heisman Trophy and provided a thrill a minute for high-powered Georgia Tech, Joe Hamilton has found himself on the defensive about his future.

Where does he go from here?

By NFL standards for quarterbacks, the 5-foot-10 Hamilton is about as small as his hometown of Alvin, S.C.

Sure, his arm is strong and he can dart around the pocket like a cat. True, he has led the 17th-ranked Yellow Jackets to seven comeback victories.

But is he big enough for the only position he has ever played?

As Hamilton walked away at the end of a lengthy interview with reporters, someone asked him how tall he was. Hamilton looked over his shoulder and smiled.

"I'm 6-2," he said.

In the eyes of Georgia Tech, he's even bigger than that.

Hamilton will lead the Yellow Jackets in the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day against No. 23 Miami, the final game in a career in which he has amassed more than 10,000 yards and brought life to a dormant program.

The Jackets were 1-10 just two years before Hamilton arrived. They are going to their third straight bowl game, the first time that has happened in 27 years.

"I don't think we'll see another like him for a long time in the state of Georgia," said coach George O'Leary. "He's made so many great plays, had so many great games."

And Hamilton isn't done yet.

A year ago in the Gator Bowl, he shared MVP honors with receiver Dez White after throwing for three touchdowns and catching another in a 35-28 victory over Notre Dame.

What does this game hold in store?

"We'll see," Hamilton said, the corner of his lips curling up in a sneaky grin. "I've got something I'm going to pull out of my hat."

Don't bet against it.

Three times this year, the Yellow Jackets (8-3) trailed in the fourth quarter until Hamilton found a way to pull out a victory with his legs or his arm, usually a little of both. Even the losses were breathtaking. Hamilton completed his last 15 passes and finished 22-of-25 for 387 yards as Georgia Tech fell just short, 45-38, at No. 1 Florida State.

That loss is one reason the Yellow Jackets are making a return to the Gator Bowl, not exactly Hamilton's choice at the start of a year that he rates a 7 1/2 .

With a defense that gave up at least 40 points in four games this year -- two of them victories -- the Yellow Jackets didn't have much of a chance to win the ACC or even get an at-large bid in the Bowl Championship Series.

"Then again, it wasn't a disappointing season with all the injuries we've had, a young defense and people learning on the move," he said. "It's been a fun season."

The best Georgia Tech can hope for is a victory over Miami (8-4), which won its past three games by scoring an average of 50 points and is playing a New Year's Day bowl game for the first time since 1985.

The Hurricanes have an idea what to expect from Hamilton, having faced the versatile Michael Vick in a 43-10 loss to No. 2 Virginia Tech.

"Their ability, their speed, their instinct is all pretty much the same," said Miami linebacker Nate Webster. "We recognize how valuable Michael Vick was to Virginia Tech, and know that Hamilton is of similar value to Georgia Tech.

"If we can contain Hamilton, we should come out successful."

Hamilton's final college game will be the Senior Bowl. After that is anyone's guess. He has not been invited to the NFL combine and isn't really sure whether any team will consider him at quarterback.

"If I get that chance and can't do it," Hamilton said, his voice trailing off. "But if I don't get a chance and they say I can't do it because of my height, then I'm going to be disappointed."

The only thing that matters now is ending his career on a positive note. Chances are it will be a thriller, and Hamilton will come up big.

"He's going to be sorely missed," O'Leary said. "I just hope he has a chance to go out a winner."