Damar Hamlin, former Pitt football star, says he’s ‘on the right path’ with the NFL

Buffalo Bills safety wants to stay true to himself

Written By Antonio Rossetti, Co-Sports Editor

Damar Hamlin prepared for one crucial day for much of his life. Many college athletes work on perfecting their craft and becoming the best football player they can be. However, not every athlete will make the National Football League (NFL). Many have dreamt of hearing their name called during the NFL Draft, and on April 29, Damar Hamlin’s dream became a reality when he was drafted by the Buffalo Bills.

Damar Hamlin was selected by the Buffalo Bills in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. More than 200 athletes were drafted into the NFL and will live out their childhood dream. This upcoming draft was very special for Pittsburgh native, Damar Hamlin. Damar spent five seasons at the University of Pittsburgh and is ready for what the professional level has to offer.

Damar Hamlin grew up in McKees Rocks which is a town in western Pennsylvania. Many talented players from the Pittsburgh area have made it to the next level, including Darelle Revis, Ty Law, and 2020 defensive player of the year, Aaron Donald.

Damar Hamlin has always been prepared for a challenge. Growing up, Hamlin played both basketball and football. Going into high school, Damar had the choice to play for Sto-Rox or Central Catholic. Although it was a tough decision, Damar decided to attend Central Catholic.

“It put me in a better position to get where I am now today,” Damar said. “I was in a winning culture.”

Central Catholic gave Damar a chance to play against premier athletes. In his senior season, he played athletes such as Phil Jurkovec, who plays for Boston College, and De’vante Cross who is with the University of Virginia.

Despite playing against superb athletes, he also played with a loaded roster. Damar’s teammates included Bricen Garner and Rashad Weaver, who are both Division One athletes. Garner and Weaver became teammates with Damar at the University of Pittsburgh.

Damar Hamlin flourished at Central Catholic. In 2015 during his senior season, he helped lead the Vikings to a 15-1 record. In the same year, Central Catholic also won the WPIAL Class AAAA championship and the PIAA state title. Damar was the top-rated defensive player in Pennsylvania according to 247 sports and was the Pennsylvania AAAA Defensive Player of the Year.

Damar’s play caught the eyes of many Division One football schools across the nation. The schools that would have recruited the young athlete included Ohio State, Penn State, Notre Dame, and Pitt. All four of these schools have an enriched history. Damar could have attended any college and would make an impact. However, his decision was clear. He was going to stay in his hometown and play for the University of Pittsburgh.

“I was just so Pittsburgh. Everything was Pittsburgh for me,” Damar said. “I wanted to give my city bragging rights, bring my city something and just give the city another reason to smile.”

The Steel City is a place he calls home. He said he wanted to give the city and the school success any way that he could. Donning the blue and gold was something he always wanted. Even though he was all Pittsburgh all the time, that wasn’t the only reason he attended Pittsburgh.

“I had a little brother that was two years old at the time,” Damar said. “I wanted him to just grow up with a role model in his life and to give him someone to be able to model himself after.”

Damar could have gone to any top-tier program to play football, but staying in Pittsburgh was a decision he needed to make. He felt obligated to give his brother someone to look up to and he wanted to play in front of his friends and family.

Damar Hamlin’s first season did not go as planned. He dealt with an injury that cut his first season short. Nevertheless, Damar made this a learning experience. In the games that he played, he played with Jordan Whitehead, Avonte Maddox, and Ryan Lewis, who would all become notable NFL players.

“Working with them in school and seeing them make it and then play well in the NFL, it just showed me that I’m on the right path to be on,” said Damar.

The Panthers had a stacked secondary during his freshman season. Damar saw playing time before getting injured, but being able to see players he played with perform well at the next level motivated him.

The biggest adjustment going into Atlantic Coastal Conference (ACC) football was the athleticism and the speed of the game. Even though Central Catholic is a premier high school, going from high school football to college football is a big jump. Nonetheless, Hamlin adapted quickly. In his sophomore season, Damar started four games and also notched his first career interception.

Damar’s junior season was his first full season of college football. Damar had a healthy offseason, and this gave him confidence. In the first game of the 2018 season, Damar Hamlin had his first interception, which he returned for 79 yards.

“It was my first healthy offseason that I’ve had going into it, so I knew it would be something special, and to finally have everything clicking for me and being able to be that presence for my team, it felt great,” Damar said. “It was just something I always wanted, and that’s what I envisioned from the beginning. It’s God’s Plan, and it all worked out in the end thankfully.”

In 2018, the Pitt Panthers won the ACC coastal division and won their last four home games. Even though they lost to Clemson in the ACC championship, the Panthers ruled the coastal division.

Damar Hamlin was a huge part of the team’s 2018 success. Hamlin led the team in tackles and interceptions and started all 14 games.
During his senior season, Damar continued his success. In their fourth game of the season, the Panthers snapped Central Florida’s 27-game regular-season win streak. Many remember Pitt’s version of the “Philly Special,” winning the game 35-34. However, without Damar Hamlin, Pitt may have not had the opportunity to win the game. Damar had a touchdown-saving tackle and on the next play, UCF threw an interception.

“That tackle was something we talked about as a team on the sideline because the very next play we got an interception, which if I didn’t make that tackle, who knows,” Damar said. “It could have been a touchdown, but after that tackle, we got an interception and it was just a whole change of events.”

The senior safety tallied 84 tackles and helped lead his team in the Quick Lane Bowl against Eastern Michigan, winning the game 34-30.
Damar had one last season of eligibility and played one last season. In an announcement, Pat Narduzzi announced who was selected as captains for the 2020 season.

“Our team made outstanding selections in voting these four players’ captains for the 2020 season,” Narduzzi said. “Damar, Patrick, Jimmy, and Kenny have really shown themselves to be outstanding leaders, especially during a challenging offseason and unconventional training camp. They are highly deserving of the honor of wearing that ‘C’ on their uniforms.”

In 2020, Hamlin had an impressive season. In 10 games played, Damar Hamlin had 66 tackles and two interceptions. His strong play at safety earned him a spot on the All-ACC second team. He also earned a spot and played in Reese’s Senior Bowl all-star game.

Damar finished his five-year career and was ready for what the next level had to offer. After the season, Damar declared for the 2021 NFL draft. Damar was invited to the NFL combine, which is where NFL coaches watch the incoming NFL athletes perform drills and showcase their athleticism.

“The draft training was amazing. It was just being able to get around different athletes that are around the same caliber as you,” Damar said. “It was just being a sponge and learning everything I can from the trainers, from the pros.”

Although Damar is excited to play professionally, Panther fans also look forward to watching Damar play at the next level.

“I had the opportunity to watch Hamlin play on numerous occasions and man can that guy play,” said Douglas Read, who has been a season ticket holder since 2017, before the NFL Draft. “I think he will do great things for whichever team he gets drafted by and I hope to see great things from the soon-to-be Rookie in the NFL.”

The Pitt star gets the opportunity to play for the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo is coming off a terrific season, making it to the AFC Championship. The Bills fell short losing to the Chiefs, but the team can use a player like Damar Hamlin in the secondary. Although Damar is excited about the opportunity, football isn’t his only passion.

Damar is also passionate about his clothing brand, “Chasing M’s.” The brand originally began as a slogan. After years of using the slogan, it became so much more. Hamlin began making clothing.

“Once I got to college and got more business-minded and business savvy, I just wanted to develop it even more,” said Damar.

“Chasing M’s” allows Damar to showcase his creativity and dedication. Damar plans on growing “Chasing M’s,” but clothing and football are not his everything. His family will always come first. His role models are his parents, and they have always been an essential part of his life.

“My father showed me sacrifice. He sacrificed a lot for me just to put me in a great position to be able to be successful,” Damar said. “My mother held everything down. She taught me hard work and dedication.”

Damar Hamlin wants to continue his success. Football will always be his go-to sport, but he will never forget who raised him. Damar wants to make his city proud. Damar always wanted to play football at the NFL level. The question is: what are Damar’s post-college goals?

“My goals are just to stay true to me and just stay true to everything I said I wanted to be as a child. That’s first and foremost,” Damar said before being drafted by the Buffalo Bills “Whatever team I go to, just learning that system and conquering it and just finding a way to earn that starting spot and then end up being in the league as long as I can. I want to get into real estate and I want to be in this clothing thing for a very long time, so we’ll see how it goes.”