SWEET HOME ALABAMA
By George Somerville
With the clash of the season coming this Saturday with LSU visiting Alabama, we wanted to understand what it’s like playing for a school of this stature. Shaun Dion Hamilton was drafted by the Washington Redskins in 2018 and plays linebacker. Shaun’s college career was at the University of Alabama.
@CollegeChaps had the opportunity to sit down with Shaun Dion at the start of the season:
Shaun Dion Hamilton
Hi Shaun, thanks for taking the time out to talk to The College Chaps. For the fans in the UK tell us a little bit about yourself and your journey to the NFL?
“Coming out of High School I had scholarship offers from pretty much everywhere in the country. But I was born and raised in Montgomery, Alabama so when it came down to choosing a school, I chose Alabama as it was close to home. Nick Saban was running a winning program and they were customarily putting guys in the NFL every year. So I played at Alabama for four years and then ended up getting drafted by the Redskins.”
It’s actually your college career that we would like to dicuss most. You talked about growing up growing up in Montgomery, Alabama which isn’t far away from Tuscaloosa. What was it like getting that offer to go and play football for Alabama?
“You know it was really cool. Alabama has been the best college football program in the last ten years. One thing Coach Saban told me when I was in High School was that I would win a National Championship. And I got a chance to win two of those. So I enjoyed everything about my college experience.”
Everyone is very familiar with the dominance that Alabama has had in the last ten years. For a fan base which is familiar with college football but isn’t immersed in the culture of college football. What’s it like playing for a team like Alabama?
“It’s really fun. There’s a lot of great competition and you get to play with a lot of great players. Coach Saban pushes us really hard and you’ve got to be ready to come press as hard every single day. Because if you don’t you can easily lose your job because there’s so much good talent on the team.”
You talked about being a high star recruit coming out of High School, so clearly you were established very early on as being a star player. For people in the UK where our school system isn’t the same. There’s no equivalent where you can play sport in front of 100,000 people at University. What’s the pressure like playing for an SEC school like Alabama, or does that not really register for you when you’re growing up?
“You kind of feel it your very first time in your true freshman year, probably like your first game. But after a while you kinda get used to it. Because everyone in the SEC has 100,000 people in the stands. so you get acclimated to it pretty quick.”
What is Coach Saban like as a Head Coach?
“You know he’s a great coach. He definitely pushes us to the max, making sure we get getter each and every day. He’s a great guy. He always wants what’s best for us. He doesn’t believe in us just playing football for him, he pushes us in life. Making sure that we do what we have to do in order to graduate from college.”
I’ve heard you talk in previous interviews, very highly of Coach Saban. Did you get the chance to be with him away from the game and the school. What’s he like on a personal basis?
“He definitely cares about us man. He truly wants what’s best for us. Whether that’s playing football or if that’s another phase in life. “
We have seen in games what it’s like when he loses his temper. He regularly gives referee’s a hard time. Firstly, have you ever been on the end on one of those moments? What’s it like when he launches in to a vocal tirade?
“Oh yeah I definitely have been on the end of that before. Mainly my freshman year. You know when you are trying to learn the playbook and get a feel for everything. All freshmen get chewed out and he get’s on to us real good. It’s all about trying to get us to learn. We don’t get our feelings involved in it.”
You’re a two time National Champion with the Crimson Tide. I’m sure there must be lots of highlights but can you pick out a particular highlight from your time in Tuscaloosa?
“I would definitely say when I won the National Championship, when we beat Georgia was my highlight. Was it two years ago in the National Championship? I mean we were losing the whole game and we eventually came back and won. That was the best feeling in the world.”
And probably one of the most exciting National Championship ever, right?
“Oh yeah. No doubt about that. I’m pretty sure everyone can speak for that being their favourite time.”
During your time you were made a team captain, even while you were injured. What did that mean to you as a player?
“It means a lot. It means a lot. You know that my team mates voted me and think the world of me. It definitely means a lot. It was a huge honour. It was probably one of my best accomplishments.”
You were captain while you were injured during both 2016 and 2017 seasons. Both were season ending injuries. How difficult is that to overcome as a young player? Is it mentally difficult to overcome those kinds of injuries?
“It’s tough at first. But I had a good training staff that pushed me. They made sure that they did everything to get me back to being the same player I was before the injuries. So the entire time they did a good job of making sure I was doing whatever was needed and getting back to my old self.”
Dylan Moses is going through something similar now. How will he have to prepare mentally for what he’s about to go through?
“It’s going to be important that he goes in every day to continue to do what he has to do to get better. I know he will bounce back from it. He’s a good player, he’s really tough. I know he’ll be ok.”
There’s been a little bit of discussion about the intensity at which Alabama train’s and the training schedule. People seem divided- some saying it’s the intensity of the training schedule which contributes to injuries like this. Others saying that’s what makes Alabama so special. You’ve been through the training regime. How do you see it?
“When one person has an injury, people think how you practice has something to do with it. The reality is that if you don’t practice hard like that you’re not going to know where you’re at, as a team. So you know it’s just a pro and a con and something that you have to accept the fact. You don’t want to make practice easy and then in the end when you get to the game you don’t know where you’re at physically.”
“And thats what has led Coach Saban to win so many championships by how he practices and how he goes about business. “
What’s a typical practice day like at Alabama?
“You go to class and you have all your classes set up before 1pm. And then you are normally at the facility from 1pm to 6.30pm. Practicing, going through film, having meetings, stuff like that. So we are in the building for a little while. But it’s well worth it though!”
So how different is that to your practice days in the NFL at Washington?
It’s different, because you know in College always having to go to class keeps us from being at the facility all day long. Which you know in the pros that’s our job so we’re at the facility all day long.
At Bama, it seems to be that it was your Junior year where things really started to take off and people started to really notice you. What was the difference between Sophomore and Junior year’s that you just developed into the player that you are now, getting more starts and your presence was much greater. What was the difference?
“It was me getting more comfortable in the system. Learning more, trusting my teammates more.”
And how long does it actually take for you to get familiar with the system from day one?
“I’d say it’s a pretty deep playbook and everybody learns differently. So it may take one guy one year and take another guy a couple of years. I’d say it took me about a year and a half.”
In the SEC, which road game did you most look forward to and which road game had the worst fans?
“I definitely looked forward to the LSU game the most. Just because their fans were always pretty rowdy and loud. They have one of the best fan bases. “
Do you enjoy the rowdy, loud crowds like that – is it something that gets you going?
“Oh yeah, I think all of my team mates enjoyed playing against teams like that. Just because it was always fun.”
Who was the toughest or best player that you faced during your time in College?
“I definitely have to say Deshaun Watson. He was a player who was just different. You could hit him so many times but he always got up. He was a great competitor. We beat him one year and he beat us another year. He was a really good player.”
When you moved from Alabama into the NFL and the Redskins, how much of a step up was there? Was there a step up or was it relatively seamless?
It was a pretty smooth transition. Athletically wise, guys are a little bit faster and stronger but you know playing at Alabama and playing against a good group of guys already it made the drop off not be so big.
What did you miss most about Tuscaloosa or Montgomery when you left Alabama?
“I would say I missed the college town. I loved Tuscaloosa, I had built a lot of friendships, so I missed it a lot and being close to home.”
Do you get back to Tuscaloosa often, do you follow the team and get back to watch them if you can?
“Yes, I trained there in the off season, so i got a chance to be around a lot of my old teammates.”
After the way last season ended, how fired up do you think the team is?
“They’re pretty fired up. They didn’t like the way that it ended. So I know that Coach Saban is going to have them ready to play.”
From Crimson & White To Burgundy & Yellow
You may be missing Tuscaloosa, but Maryland is looking a little bit like Little Tuscaloosa right now. You’ve got Da’Ron Payne, Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allan, Ross Piersbacher, Landon Collins and a couple of others with you. Whats that been like, having so many Alabama teammates in the locker room in Washington?
“It’s been really fun and it’s one thing that has made being up here easier because when you have a lot of teammates around you then you’re a lot more comfortable. I’ve enjoyed having all the guys up here together.”
And how are you enjoying your time at Washington now?
“It’s been really fun and I’m enjoying being with my teammates and the coaching staff. Just being here. You know I’ve been at Alabama my whole life. I’ve been enjoying it.”
Are you back to full health now? And I guess it’s unfortunate that with the injury to Reuben Foster now, it leaves a bit of a gap. So the job that you’ll do now will now be a pretty important one. You’ll have to build a relationship with Jon Bostic. How’s that been progressing in the pre season?
“Yes sir is am. It’s been going good. You know we’ve got a great group of guys. We’ve got four linebackers who are all accomplished so we can play and we’ve got a lot of experience and we drafted a guy who’s close and is going to be a really good linebacker for us. Josh H is a good linebacker so all four of us plan on playing and I think we’ve got a really good group of guys. “
Well we wish you the very best for the season and hope it goes well for you. Thanks for fitting us in to your day off.
With thanks to Shaun Dion Hamilton for taking the time out and to his representatives who organised and helped with the interview.
You can follow Shaun on Twitter @iam_sdh20
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Feature Image Credit: MontgomeryAdvertiser.com
College football writer
A Glaswegian living in London, George is a college football fan who follows the Alabama Crimson Tide. He provides CFB content for The Touchdown and is one third of The College Chaps Podcast.