NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Ryan Hamilton played a full quarter of football Saturday against LSU one armed, his right pectoral muscle detached from the bone.
Before the pain became intolerable, Hamilton contributed two tackles for the Commodore defense, providing yet another reminder why Vanderbilt Head Coach Bobby Johnson thought his fifth-year senior co-captain was one of the Southeastern Conference's finest.
Johnson announced Monday that Hamilton, facing corrective surgery, has played his final snap this season, as has promising sophomore offensive tackle James Williams.
"I can't say enough about Ryan," the Commodore mentor said. "He is an All-SEC caliber safety, a guy that had a great year last year and started this year with a great game against Western Carolina.
"He actually played with his muscle torn off his bone. That tells you how tough he is," Johnson added. "His injury is going to be really tough to deal with."
A three-year starter, Hamilton has the full respect of coaches and teammates, who voted him as a defensive co-captain during spring drills.
"He's a great friend, a great teammate and a great player," fellow captain and roommate Bradley Vierling said. "He's hurting right now, but it's more than the pain. He wants to be there for his teammates."
Hamilton, the son of a Naval Academy quarterback, has thrived on the gridiron for a dozen years, ever since organizers of a youth soccer league banned him for rough play as a third grader. Contact - in full gear - perfectly suited the Pennsylvania native.
From his enrollment on campus, Hamilton's star burnt bright. As a true freshman scout, he garnered frequent praise from defensive coaches trying to make Jay Cutler a better quarterback on weekdays. In his first game as a redshirt freshman in 2006, Hamilton started at safety in front of 109,668 fans at the University of Michigan.
From that Ann Arbor appearance until his departure in front of 91,566 fans in Baton Rouge last Saturday, Hamilton compiled 222 tackles, more than any other active SEC defensive back. He also amassed five interceptions, 9.5 tackles for loss, a pair of quarterback sacks, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 12 defensed passes.
As a safety, Hamilton was tough, durable, knowledgeable and seemingly always around the football.
In 2008, Hamilton, fellow safety Reshard Langford, and cornerbacks Myron Lewis and D.J. Moore formed one of the top Commodore defensive secondary units ever. He and Langford particularly feed off one other to become a productive and durable safety duo, starting beside each other for 32 consecutive games.
During their tenure, the Commodores became a formidable defensive unit and a leading reason why Vanderbilt qualified for the 2008 Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl, their first postseason bowl appearance in more than two decades.
Hamilton will forever be remembered by Commodore fans for a stunning, three-interception performance at Ole Miss last September. While Hamilton went 79 yards for a touchdown with the first one, teammates probably recall Hamilton stopping a Rebel ball carrier at the Vanderbilt 1-yard line later in the game, a play that helped halt a probable Ole Miss score. The overall effort earned Hamilton National Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Hamilton's excellence extends away from the gridiron. A two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll recipient, he is about to complete a degree in economics from the College of Arts and Science.
At Johnson's regular press conference, reporters suggested a possible medical redshirt hardship - and potential sixth season - for Hamilton. Rest assured, if the pupil so desires, the head coach is on board.
Hamilton's Career Stats:
2006: 43 total tackles, 36 solo tackles, 1 forced fumble, 1 interception
2007: 68 total tackles, 48 solo tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 1 quarterback sack, five defensed passes, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
2008: 104 total tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, five defensed passes, three fumble recovers, 1 quarterback sack, four interceptions
2009: 7 total tackles, four solo tackles.
Career: 222 total tackles, 139 solo tackles, 9.5 tackles for loss, 2 quarterback sacks, five interceptions, 12 defensed passes, three forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries.