Banned from soccer, Vandy's Hamilton finds his niche

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low

Ryan Hamilton hasn't received this much attention since he was kicked out of his youth soccer league when he was in the third grade.

Ole Miss probably wishes it could have found a way to get Hamilton out of the way last Saturday. The Vanderbilt junior strong safety was a one-man wrecking crew with three interceptions, including one he returned 79 yards for a touchdown and another that sealed the Commodores' 23-17 win as time expired.

Hamilton also had a key goal-line stop to prevent an Ole Miss touchdown and recovered a fumble. He was named Tuesday as the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week, joining teammate Patrick Benoist, who won the award the second week of the season following the 24-17 win over South Carolina.

The Commodores, who are open this weekend, are 4-0 and ranked nationally for the first time since 1984.

"Our whole defense is playing with so much confidence right now," Hamilton said. "I think it's a mindset. After the last couple of seasons of having a really good defense but not closing out all those games, that's all we talked about this offseason. We weren't going to allow that to happen again.

"When you have a season like we did last year, that's all you think about until football starts up again. We were so close in so many games, but didn't finish teams out. We were going to do whatever we needed to do to finish those games in the second half this season and weren't going to back down from anything."

The Commodores have outscored their four opponents in the second half this season by a 51-10 margin and have trailed in all four games.

Hamilton is part of a secondary that has been outstanding. The Commodores are tied for the national lead along with Texas Tech with 10 interceptions.

Cornerback D.J. Moore and free safety Reshard Langford came into the season as known commodities around the country. Hamilton wasn't as much of a household name with fans, but the Vanderbilt coaches knew exactly what they had.

"He hasn't been a surprise to us, to tell you the truth," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "He's smart, a hard worker, strong and physical. He knows what's going on. He's back there during meetings writing everything down and double-checking things. You can always count on him doing the right things.

"On the field, he anticipates things. The first interception he scored on was just classic. He expected the ball to come out. He waited for it to come out and stepped right where he thought it was going to go and was headed for the end zone. That wasn't just a lucky play. He saw it happening."

It's also a good thing for Hamilton that he can be as aggressive as he wants to be on the football field. He didn't start organized football until he was banned from youth soccer for rough play while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs.

"True story," recounts Hamilton, almost proudly. "The last (soccer) game of the year, the league chairman comes up to my dad and says, 'Don't ever bring your son back to this league again.'

"My dad says, 'Sounds like I'll be signing him up for football,' and that's where it all started, I guess."