IOWA CITY – Ray Hamilton has learned patience during his first three seasons in an Iowa football uniform.
“It humbled me. You come in out of high school thinking you’re the man because you’re used to catching a couple of scores every game,’’ Hamilton said. “I got here and it was probably one of the best things that happened to me. I got punched in the face right away, learned that you have to know your role, run block, do what is needed. You earn everything you get here.’’
Understanding that has positioned the to move to the top of a crowded depth chart at tight end, where competition is pushing the entire group as it works to fill the lineup spot C.J. Fiedorowicz occupied in 29 games over the past three seasons for the Hawkeyes.
The 6-foot-5, 252-pound native of Strongsville, Ohio, did start three games a year ago, catching eight passes for 95 yards.
By demonstrating similar strengths as a blocker and receiver that led Fiedorowicz to an all-Big Ten season and a third-round selection by Houston in last month’s NFL draft, Hamilton believes he is positioned well for his senior season.
However, time has taught him to take nothing for granted.
Hamilton expects to continue to be challenged by juniors Jake Duzey and Henry Krieger Coble and sophomore George Kittle as the Hawkeyes work through fall camp in preparation for their Aug. 30 season opener against Northern Iowa.
“It’s a healthy competition,’’ Hamilton said. “Off the field, we’re friends. We work to help each other but we are all trying to earn the same one, two, three spots on the field at any point in time. That’s the reality of it.’’
Hamilton credits Fiedorowicz, who caught 30 passes for 299 yards last year, with teaching him the work ethic needed to take his game to the next level.
He also watched Fiedorowicz embrace the requirements of the position, from developing abilities as a dominant blocker to being able to go up for a jump ball in the end zone.
“There was a lot to like about the way C.J. approached the game,’’ Hamilton said. “Paying attention to the way he competed and did his job from one week the next has really helped me.’’
Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz believes Hamilton has displayed the needed growth to step into a more prominent role this fall.
“Ray’s always been one of those under-appreciated guys in some ways, even by us coaches at times. He’s made some clutch plays. He’s made them in practice,’’ Ferentz said. “We’re losing a pro guy, and when you lose a pro guy, it’s not fair to compare him to a guy who hasn’t played much. The good news is, I think Ray has improved his game and I thought he was pretty good last year.’’
Hamilton believes he must continue to improve.
“The good thing about having the amount of competition that we have going on right now is that you have to come out every day ready to do the things it takes to become better,’’ he said. “If you don’t, you’ll fall behind.’’
Hamilton said the way Iowa traditionally utilizes its tight ends was one of the things that attracted him to Iowa in the first place.
He said that offensive coordinator Greg Davis continues to work to find different ways to use the depth the Hawkeyes have at the position and tight ends are working daily with quarterbacks to build the necessary cohesion to be a part of Iowa’s passing plans.
“It’s healthy competition and ultimately helps the team. We need production from our position,’’ Hamilton said. “The idea is to go raise hell while you’re in there. You may only be in there for 20 plays, but when you’re in there, go for it to the max and make it count.’’