Slinging it on the sidelines

Sunday, September 27, 2009 at 11:08pm

Ryan Hamilton is more than happy to lend a hand to Vanderbilt’s secondary these days. Then again, one is all he has to offer.

With his right arm immobilized in a sling following surgery to repair a torn chest muscle, the Commodores’ safety is out for the remainder of his senior season. Yet he is determined not to miss out on whatever the team accomplishes the rest of the way.

“To be honest, I wouldn’t be able to just sit back and not be involved,” he said. “I am trying to help any way I can.”

Named one of the team’s three captains during the off-season, he effectively has graduated to a coach. He continues to attend practices and watch film of the opponents. He looks for things during games that those on the field might need to know and throughout the practice week attempts to offer insight wherever he can.

The way coach Bobby Johnson sees it, any input Hamilton, a full-time starter the past two seasons, might offer is welcomed.

“It’s always great to have another set of eyes,” Johnson, a former defensive backs coach, said. “For the secondary coach it’s hard sometimes to be coaching four of them, and then when you add a nickel in there, coaching five of them. You’re trying to see everything that happens, and another set of eyes helps.”

Hamilton was very much involved on the sideline of Vanderbilt’s 15-3 loss to Mississippi State on Sept. 19, and it’s likely this weekend’s game against Ole Miss will be no different.

Eventually, though, there will come a time when he won’t be around. Specifically, that time will be Oct. 24, when Vanderbilt plays at South Carolina.

SEC rules mandate that a maximum of 70 players can travel for conference road games. If the team takes Hamilton, he counts as one of those 70, and the Commodores do not have the luxury of devoting a spot to someone who cannot be on the field.

This past Saturday’s game at Rice and the Oct. 10 trip to Army are not subject to that conference rule.

Regardless of any Saturday regulations, though, he plans to be on the practice field every time his teammates are.

“He works with the safeties out there at practice just saying, ‘Hey, I remember this and that,’ or ‘You’re supposed to do this on particular coverage,’ or just giving guys a pat on the back for doing the right thing,” Johnson said.

Hamilton called the injury “probably the worst thing I could have imagined happening to me.”

Having played every game each of the past three seasons, he was a fixture in the Commodores’ defense. His passion and presence were considered valuable commodities even before the start of the season. Then there was his production — a career-high 104 tackles last season in addition to four interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a sack.

He tore the muscle early in the Sept. 12 loss at LSU but continued to play and still managed to make five tackles. It wasn’t until an examination at halftime revealed the extent of the damage.

“When it happened, I had a pretty good idea that something was very wrong with me,” he said. “ … It definitely was something I never felt before, and I knew something wasn’t right. But I wasn’t going to take myself out of the game because I felt like I could still play.”

Now he knows he can’t play, yet with roughly two months remaining before he graduates with a degree in economics he still refuses to leave the game before it’s time to do so.

“It’s pretty common really, to tell you the truth,” Johnson said. “(Players who get injured) have invested a lot and they want to be as close to the team as they can.”

Johnson has said he and his staff are willing to petition for an extra year of eligibility for Hamilton, who was redshirted as a true freshman in 2005.

Hamilton, though, has not decided whether or not he wants to continue his education or get on with the next phase of his life. He also cannot say whether or not he wants to get into coaching as a career.

“I never really thought about it,” he said. “It’s not an easy job, but I just enjoy if I can help in any way or share my knowledge in any way to help make the team better. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a coach.”

If he ever decides to, he will have an advocate in his current coach.

“I think he’d be great,” Johnson said. “I think he’d be wonderful at it. He picks up all the concepts very easily. I think he loves the game. I think he’d be a great one.”

Given his injury, that’s the best he can do for now.