DAVIE, Fla. -- At Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas it's been all about the offensive linemen.
From Sam Young, to Brandon Linder, to Bobby Hart there is probably no school in the nation that has produced more elite offensive line prospects than the Raiders.
But in the Class of 2012, it looks like Jelani Hamilton is flipping the switch. The 6-5, 247-pound defensive end is quickly establishing himself as one of the top defensive players in this class.
Hamilton said he has his former teammates as offensive linemen to thank.
"At STA, you know that the offensive linemen are going to be good and they are going to give you a workout," Hamilton said. "Brandon is the best lineman I've ever faced. I remember going up against him the first time, and I was a little cocky because I finally made varsity. He just wore me out.
"I think the first practice he threw me back with one hand."
Hamilton didn't take it personally and after a while he knew that Linder, the current center for the Miami Hurricanes, was probably going to be the best he'd see, so he learned his lessons and showed the results against his opponents.
As a junior Hamilton opened the season with a breakout performance against Dallas Skyline in a nationally televised game with six tackles and two sacks.
"It was an exciting because I finally felt like it was my time," Hamilton said. "To be able to open the season at Cowboys Stadium and play like that let me know that all the work was about to pay off."
Hamilton ended his season with another strong performance against Tampa Plant in the Class 5A State Championship game and recorded another sack and a half as the Raiders won 29-7 and clinched an ESPN RISE Fab 50 National Championship.
He also took part in the Under Armour Combine in Miami on Feb. 13, running the 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds, a 28-inch vertical jump and a 9-foot-1 broad jump. Hamilton also put up 17 reps on the bench press and ran 8.02 seconds in the 3-cone drill.
Colleges have begun to take notice, too. Just recently Hamilton added oral scholarship offers from Illinois, LSU and Texas Tech to go along with FSU, Miami, Florida and Rutgers.
Hamilton has no early favorites but will be heading to FSU's junior day on Saturday and knows that he's going to hear about it from his 2010 teammates Rashad Greene and Bobby Hart -- both FSU commits.
"Oh yeah they always telling me about Florida State," Hamilton said. "I know what to expect because it's going to be like family and the coaches are going to be great. I have a few former teammates there."
Originally Hamilton was thinking about committing over the summer but now his plan is to wait until after his regular season.
"I want to see as much as I can and see how things shake down," Hamilton said. "A lot of coaching situations change from year to year. I'm pretty open to all schools right now because they all have something to offer."
Naturally Hamilton wants to go to a place where he can have the opportunity to compete early and a program that can give him the opportunity to play for championships. But on the academic side he's looking for some greater specifics.
"I'd like to go to a place that has a great marine biology program because that's what I'm interested in studying," Hamilton said. "Coral reefs fascinate me. When I'm not watching football or something I'm generally watching The Ocean Channel on the Internet and the Discovery Channel when they have documentaries on ocean life."
Hamilton enjoys the water so much that he even incorporates swimming as part of his workout regimen.
"I took swimming lessons when I was about 12 years old," Hamilton said. "I used it for working out and when I have injuries. I know working out in the water can help with recovery."
Corey Long has been covering high school football and recruiting in the Sunshine State since 1995. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.