When Lou Sorrentino, the football coach at Mountain View High School in Stafford, Va., is asked about star receiver DaeSean Hamilton, he can't help but think back to another of his pretty successful players.
"I was Deon Butler's high school coach at a different school. He's just a gem of a guy. DaeSean's very similar," Sorrentino said. "He's a humble, charismatic guy, a great guy to be around. Maybe even a better guy off the field than on it, and they're great players on the field."
Butler might have been more of a diamond in the rough coming out of Hylton High School, but, if Hamilton turns out to be anywhere near the player Butler did, the Penn State football team might have struck gold with his verbal commitment two weeks ago.
Like Butler before him, Hamilton decided to play for the Nittany Lions after his Dec. 7-9 official visit. The timing of the 6-foot-1, 182-pound Commonwealth District offensive player of the year caught many off guard, including his coach.
"I was surprised. He was a guy who was kind of waiting. This was his third visit, and he still had a couple of more I thought he was going to take. I didn't see it coming, although he'd been very busy with in-home visits and stuff like that," Sorrentino said. "I think the biggest thing I got out of him was how impressed he and his parents are with Coach [Bill] O'Brien and the staff. That stood out.
"I asked him about the sanctions - I hate to see him be the new guy and inherit some of those punishments - but, the type of kid he is, he said, 'Coach, that isn't going to be a factor for me.'"
Sorrentino said Hamilton had scholarship offers from "anybody I showed his film to." That list included Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, Miami, Illinois, Michigan State and Duke.
"A lot of people just thought Tech was going to be the school I was going to pick because of where I went to high school and the people around me there," Hamilton, who could not be reached by the Mirror, told his local newspaper, the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star. "But I kept trying to tell everybody I didn't have a favorite and I was going to leave my options open. It was a fair race for anybody.
"I just loved everything that I saw up there. I loved Coach O'Brien. I think he's a real good coach. My family loved him. My family loved the campus, and I just thought it was the right choice in the end," Hamilton added. "At first I went up there as if it was just another visit. I wasn't planning on making a decision, but they caught my eye the most."
Hamilton actually has met Butler, the former walk-on who left Penn State as the Nittany Lions' career receiving leader. Now with the Seattle Seahawks, Butler remains in touch with Sorrentino.
"I went back and was in the weight room and took [Hamilton and some of his teammates] through some cone drills and stuff," Butler said. "He asked me a few questions about Penn State, but most of what I remember was Coach Sorrentino talking about him being a hard worker. Just from knowing Coach Sorrentino as long as I have, I know what he's saying is the truth. He's had a lot of players. He knows what it takes to be a Penn State kid. He told me [Hamilton] has what it takes."
An all-district first-team receiver as a junior, Hamilton, who also plays basketball and carries a 4.1 GPA, finished his high school career with 193 receptions for 2,824 yards and 22 touchdowns. As a senior for the Wildcats, he caught 64 passes for 1,073 yards and 10 touchdowns, although his season was cut short by an injury in the regional semifinals. Even the injury had trouble slowing him down.
"In the regional semifinals, we were pretty big underdogs. We were winning, 14-13, but they had all the momentum, there three minutes to go in the game, we're facing a third-and-20. Everybody in the stadium knew we were going to throw it up to him," Sorrentino said. "He was double covered. He goes up and gets it for a 25-yard gain. He breaks his collarbone on the play, stays in the game, and, on the next series, we have a fourth-and-5, he catches it, breaks a tackle. We kneeled on it after that."
Sorrentino attributes much of Hamilton's success to another quality he shared with Butler: outstanding body control. Butler said being able to twist, turn and adjust to make a play on a pass is an underrated skill that will serve Hamilton well at the next level.
"That's big, especially for the level he's going to now," Butler said. "The athletes are going to be a little bit better. The windows are going to be a little bit tighter. He's not always going to be able to do what he did in high school with 2, 3 yards separation to make the easy catch. He's going to have to be able to come in and out of his breaks to make that separation. You hear that quarterbacks throw the receivers open, but receivers have to have the body control to adjust to the ball."