Catawba football: 'Hammer' tough as nails
By Mike London
Like a good referee, Catawba right guard Kevin Hamaker performs so efficiently he goes unnoticed.
Steady, reliable, strong.
Those are the boring adjectives coaches use to describe the 6-foot-3, 295-pound senior, but those are adjectives that win football games in the trenches.
Back home in Beaufort, S.C., No. 56 is just plain Kevin, but since he arrived in Salisbury, coaches have called him “Hammer.”
The nickname fits.
He pounds away methodically and relentlessly.
The four-year regular is headed for a rare 40-start career. He helped former teammates Brad Roach and Jamelle Cuthbertson set records, but he’s never been recognized as All-SAC.
Not that Hamaker loses sleep over plaques and certificates. He understands fiery roommate and linemate Hunter Carnes is more colorful. He understands Catawba left tackle Terence Crosby is awesome, and there’s only so much room on all-league teams.
“We all come in wanting to be All-Americans, but I’ve given most of those individual goals up now,” Hamaker said. “But by the time you’re a senior, you understand what’s important. When you’re a senior, you realize all that matters is doing anything you can do to help the team win.”
Seniors are always called upon to make an inspirational preseason speech.
Catawba head coach Chip Hester was impressed by Hamaker’s. It was a bit different, but, then again, he’s an accounting major who plans to attend graduate school in his native state.
“Hammer spoke to his teammates about competing in the classroom as well as on the football field,” Hester said. “He challenged them not to be satisfied with being average.”
Hamaker hasn’t been average with the books. His GPA is above 3.0, and he’s a member of the Order of the Blue and White academic society. Along with receiver Eric Morman, he represents the team on the Student-Athlete Advisory Council.
Catawba wasn’t on Hamaker’s radar screen most of career at Battery Creek High School. He made football all-star teams and was one of South Carolina’s top wrestlers in the 275-pound weight class. There was attention from the big schools.
“I got caught in that trap like a lot of guys do, thinking strictly D-IA and didn’t pay attention to the other schools,” Hamaker said. “Then my senior year my team goes 1-10 and the offers aren’t there.”
Catawba was fortunate that former offensive line coach Mike Bloomgren, now a New York Jets assistant, spotted Hamaker at a “Down and Dirty Linemen Camp” in Florida. Hamaker was easy to spot. He won the board drills at that camp and was the toughest, meanest guy on the field.
“Bloomgren got me to visit Catawba,” Hamaker said. “That was the one school that had their arms open for me.”
He redshirted the 2005 season, learning the ropes under new line coach Ben Hepler.
By the opening game of the 2006 season, Hamaker had earned a starting assignment against visiting Winston-Salem State. His parents, Peter and Vickie, made the four-hour drive to witness his debut. It was Catawba’s first night game in 32 years. It provides a perfect memory.
“It was that first night game, my parents were here, we won (21-7) and then they were shooting off fireworks,” Hamaker said. “It’s something I’ll never forget, especially with my mother having health issues now and not always getting to see me play.”
Hamaker went on to start all 10 games as a redshirt freshman.
As a sophomore in 2007, he started the first 11 games until he suffered an ankle injury in the final game of the regular season. The classic from that year was Catawba’s 55-49 win at Carson-Newman, one of the epic games in school history.
The Indians trailed 35-20 at the break.
“I remember at halftime what leadership we had from seniors like Shane Timmons and Daniel Yow,” Hamaker said. “They were saying, ‘Hey, we’ve still got this. We’ve just got to have a drive to start the second half.’ ”
Catawba made the drive and made the comeback.
“You don’t forget that because you don’t see fans storm the field very often in D-II,” Hamaker said. “I think my dad was hugging me before the whistle blew.”
Last season, as a junior, Hamaker started all 10 games. The memorable outing was the 58-23 mashing of Lenoir-Rhyne in which Cuthbertson rushed for 223 yards and broke the school’s single-season record in the finale.
“We weren’t going to be satisfied with anything less than the record for Cutty,” Hamaker said. “When there was a pass play called in the huddle, all the linemen were like, ‘Ah, come on.’ ”
Now Hamaker is a senior on a team off to a 3-0 start, and he takes his own leadership role on the line seriously.
“The linemen try to do stuff as a unit every Thursday,” Hamaker said. “Parents come in and feed us or we all go out to dinner as a group. That bond is important. I enforce it.”
The offensive linemen also bond when one goes down with an injury and is unable to practice. With center Zane Gibson hobbled by a balky knee for at least a week or two, his teammates are giving him the business.
“He’s getting the treatment right now,” Hamaker said with a laugh. “He’s getting picked on by all of us.”
Hamaker isn’t as tough on teammates as he used to be, though. He says that’s the biggest change from his early years. He used to have zero tolerance when guys messed up. Now he tries to be understanding and encourage the young guys.
“I’m not as ornery as I used to be,” he said.
Hester appreciates Hamaker’s solid track record.
“Hammer’s put the team at the front and individual goals at the back, and when a guy as good as him does that, you’ve got a chance to go a long way,” Hester said. “He gets lost in the shuffle sometimes, but he’s as valuable as anyone. He’s a rock. He’s physical. He’s tough as nails.”
Worthy of his nickname.