DaeSean Hamilton started playing football when he was 6.
When he started really getting into the sport, around age 9, his Marine father was on an unaccompanied tour to Okinawa, Japan. Hamilton’s Marine mom drove the dawning star to practices and games on base stateside; a family friend made a highlight reel of the young boy to send to Hamilton’s father overseas.
“My mom wasn’t even sure if I was going to be good at football,” the now-23-year-old told Marine Corps Times in an April interview. But she kept him in the sport at his father’s encouragement.
“He had a feeling I was going to be pretty good.”
How good? The 6-foot-1, 205-pound wide receiver ended up a four-year starter at Penn State, finishing as the school’s all-time career receptions leader with 214 and second in all-time yardage (2,842).
Now, the son of two retired Marines is hoping to hear his name during the NFL draft, which begins Thursday and runs through the weekend. Some analysts have him among the top 10 receiver prospects, some have said he could be a sought-after undrafted free agent, and others have him going in the third round or higher.
“I’m just so happy for him,” his father, retired Marine CWO3 Johnie Hamilton, told Marine Corps Times. “We always told him to chase his dreams.”
DaeSean Hamilton credits his parents, Johnie and Madgeline, for never letting him give up. They met in the Marine Corps; both left after more than than 20 years of service as administrators, retiring as a chief warrant officer 3 and master sergeant, respectively.
One of his toughest times in college came early, when he was forced to sit out as a freshman because of a persistent wrist injury.
“When I redshirted I obviously doubted myself a lot,” Hamilton said. “I was a little bit discouraged because I had never really had to sit out of a football season, never really had to watch people play football … and not really be any type of contributor or any type of helping factor on that team.”
But his parents helped him through that, he says, calling him every day to encourage him and keep his spirits up.
And when he came back after a season of lifting, he was stronger and faster than before.
“I think that was his hardest year,” Johnie Hamilton said.
The youngest of three children, Hamilton was born on-base in Okinawa, Japan. His older brother has nonverbal autism, and the football player took it upon himself at a young age to step up and care for his brother to assist his parents amid their busy work schedules.
After Okinawa they landed in Quantico, Virginia, when Hamilton was in fourth grade.
They eventually moved off-base 30 minutes south, where Hamilton attended Mountain View High School.
“Most of my memories come from playing football on military bases, like when we had games on Saturdays, and playing Little League, soccer on base on Saturdays,” Hamilton said.
The head coach of Hamilton’s first junior football team was one of his dad’s military co-workers ― “That’s how I got to play at such a young age, because they were good friends.” Hamilton says.
Football has always been the goal; Hamilton said he didn’t have a military path in mind for himself growing up.
His dad is from the rough Chicago neighborhood of Englewood and joined the military to find a better life, Hamilton said.
“They got into the military to provide a better future for themselves and obviously a better future for their family, whenever they did end up having a family,” he said.
But being in a military family his whole life, he has a great appreciation for military families and service members, he says. Though his parents never had to go to war, he knows many military families who have.
“My heart stops for them,” he said. “I somewhat know what they’re going through.”
Along with his never-give-up approach, his parents also instilled in him the ideals of humility, gratitude and enthusiasm, he said.
Something they preach: “To always make sure I keep the same attitude from when I’m starting something, to finishing with that same type of enthusiasm, that same type of effort ― to never let my effort waiver, never let my confidence waiver.”
Those military mindsets will serve Hamilton well should he find an NFL home.
If he could pick his favorite NFL team to play on? “Growing up I liked whatever team won, to be honest,” Hamilton said. “I used to love Randy Moss, Marshall Faulk and guys like that growing up. Whatever my favorite team was was whoever won the Super Bowl that year.”
“The best possible outcome is obviously getting drafted, then making an NFL team after that.”
Andrea Scott is managing editor of Marine Corps Times. On Twitter: _andreascott.