Kyle Hamilton’s emergence as a defensive star at age 22 seems fitting for someone who has always taken a mature approach to football.
When he was 3 years old, Kyle Hamilton asked his mother if he could play Pee Wee football. Told that the minimum age was 6, Hamilton calmly walked away, but he wouldn’t forget.
“On the morning of his 6th birthday, he came into my room and said, ‘OK Mommy, I’m ready to play football now,'” Jackie Hamilton said. “He hadn’t mentioned it to me for three years.
“To hold that thought inside for so long, at that age? His birthday is in March, football season hadn’t even started yet. But that’s Kyle. When he sets his mind to something, he’s serious.”
Now 22 years old, Hamilton is still serious, determined not to be deterred by his youth. He’s the youngest defensive starter named to the Pro Bowl, quickly emerging as a premier safety in his second season. His poise and maturity make people forget he’s still the Ravens’ second-youngest player, just a few months older than rookie linebacker Trenton Simpson.
No matter who the Ravens face in the playoffs, Hamilton will be a key part of the defensive game plan because he’s capable of doing so much and absorbs his role in the game plan quickly.
Put him at deep safety, slot corner, near the line of scrimmage as a blitzer or run defender and Hamilton can make something extraordinary happen. Perhaps the signature play of Hamilton’s season came in Week 10 against the Browns, when he blitzed and leaped high to deflect the ball to himself for a pick-six.
It was a pass deflection, an interception, and a touchdown all in one play, as Hamilton filled up the stat box like his athletic idol, LeBron James. But Hamilton isn’t satisfied yet, and winning the Super Bowl would be the perfect climax to his breakout season.
As Baltimore enters the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed, Hamilton is one of the team’s most critical players, perhaps only trailing quarterback Lamar Jackson.
“The way our roster is set up and the way we’re coached, there’s no reason we can’t accomplish our goal,” Hamilton said. “Everything’s kind of clicking. I feel like we’re the best team in the league.
“I feel like there’s still a lot that I can improve on and a lot that I want to get better at. I’ve had let’s say – a satisfactory year. I’ve had a good year, but I feel like I hold myself to a high standard, and I have a lot more getting better to do.”
A Man of Many Talents
Hamilton’s excellence isn’t limited to sports. He’s a member of Mensa International, an organization that recognizes people that score within the upper 2% of an approved intelligence test.
He had a 3.67 GPA at Marist High School in Atlanta. His decision to leave home in Atlanta to attend Notre Dame was made with a focus on academics as much as athletics. He’s working on getting his degree in marketing, and in 20 years can picture himself as a chief marketing officer, working on the creative side of a business, perhaps his own.
But anything that involves a ball seems to be something Hamilton picks up faster than most. Don’t challenge him in golf unless you’re good – he shoots in the 80’s and can blast a 3-iron around 270 yards.
His first college scholarship offers were in basketball, a sport that runs in the family bloodlines. His father, Derrek Hamilton, is a former third-round NBA draft pick who played professionally in Europe. Kyle’s older brother, Tyler Hamilton, played college basketball at Penn.
might be crazy but i really think i would give victor wembanyama buckets
— Kyle Hamilton (@kyledhamilton_) June 16, 2023
However, Kyle’s focus became football after a growth spurt between his sophomore and junior years put him on the radar of college recruiters after he attended a summer football camp at Duke. The physicality and complexity of football always intrigued him – traits that show in the way he plays the game.
“Football tests your ability to do a lot of things,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to be tough. You’ve got to be punctual. You’ve got to be smart, resilient, and thoughtful. I think the most rewarding thing in the world is playing football and doing it well.”
Don’t Let the Baby Face Fool You
Chris Hewitt predicted this would be a breakout season for Hamilton. The Ravens’ pass game coordinator/secondary coach gave a classic description of Hamilton’s ability to be charming off the field, but a terror on game days.
“I told you that he was going to be a Pro Bowl level player,” Hewitt said. “He does everything. He covers, he blitzes, he tackles, there’s nothing that kid can’t do. Don’t let the baby face fool you, he’ll try to rip your face off.”
Hamilton’s easy-going personality makes him a favorite target with the media for interviews after practice. But as kickoff gets closer, he becomes singularly focused on diagnosing plays and destroying them.
In high school, Hamilton was often the last person to leave the locker room before kickoff. Running through a line of cheerleaders or bursting through a paper banner just wasn’t for him. One of the other parents asked Derrek why his son never led his teammates running onto the field, especially since he was the best player and a team leader.
“I didn’t know the answer, so I asked Kyle why he didn’t do that,” Derrek said. “He looked at me and said, ‘Before games? That’s when I go dark.'”
Handling a Full Plate Like a Waiter
Hamilton’s versatility makes him one of the NFL’s most unique and valuable defenders.
His 38.4% passer rating allowed led all NFL safeties. He led the team in passes defended (13), was second in interceptions (four) and tackles for loss (12), and third in tackles (81). He’s the first NFL player since Tyrann Mathieu in 2015 with at least four interceptions and 10 tackles for loss. He’s a key ingredient in Baltimore’s record-setting, triple-crown defense that became the first in history to lead the league in points allowed (16.5), sacks (60) and takeaways (31).
Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald tries not to overload Hamilton, but the responsibility puts him in position to make more plays. Hamilton has learned to handle everything on his plate, like a waiter carrying soup through a crowded room without spilling a drop.
“You turn on the tape and he’s constantly making plays that stand out,” Macdonald said. “To do what he’s doing you need to be able to cover, blitz, play the deep area, play the underneath zone, play the run fits. During the week I may ask, ‘Is this too much?’ Usually, it’s not. There aren’t many guys who can do all the things he can do. In fact, I can’t think of any.”
Studying a defensive playbook with diligence before games is something Hamilton has been doing since grade school. Even as a young boy, he didn’t cut corners.
“I remember coming into his room at night to check on him and he’d be asleep with a Pee Wee playbook, if you could call it a playbook, on his chest,” Jackie said. “Really, it was two pieces of paper that his coach had printed out. But Kyle knew it. He talks in his sleep like me, and he’d be mumbling stuff like, ‘they’re blitzing, block the linebacker.'”
Overcoming a Rocky Start
Hamilton’s ride with the Ravens began with some bumps. In a stadium practice during training camp as a rookie, Hamilton was beaten badly in a one-on-one drill by free agent wideout Bailey Gaither. Hamilton was burned on social media far more severely than he was by Gaither, with people jumping to the conclusion that Hamilton was going to be a first-round bust.
When Hamilton called his family, they all started roasting him as well. That’s how the Hamilton family rolls. They stick together, pull no punches, and share thick skin. A bad day at the office isn’t going to shake Hamilton’s confidence.
“We are a family, that for lack of a better way to say it, we talk trash a lot,” Tyler said. “When that practice happened, we were all sending clips to him saying, ‘Man, you suck.’
yo i am getting fried on this app rn😂
— Kyle Hamilton (@kyledhamilton_) August 1, 2022
“We’re hard on ourselves. Even when he was at the Combine, when his first 40 time wasn’t that great, he was texting us saying, ‘Man, I’m slow.’ We’ve always gone back and forth – we give it to each other. Around his friends and family, you’ll see his sense of humor, but he was always focused, and he was always a tough kid. I don’t ever remember seeing him cry, even when he was young.”
In Week 2 of his rookie season, the Ravens blew a 21-point lead in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Dolphins, and the secondary made several coverage mistakes. That game became a turning point for the rookie, who appreciated how coaches and teammates stuck by him.
“They were honest with me,” Hamilton said. “I can take it. Once you show somebody that you’re tough, that you belong, then they start to respect you more.”
Success Isn’t Going to His Head
Jackie and Derrek both go to every Ravens game, home and away. Hamilton has a strong support system of family and friends from high school and college who often travel to see him play. Jackie says watching her son play in the NFL is a surreal experience, but that his inner circle remains grounded.
“Kyle’s father and I divorced when Kyle was very young, and I was always stressing academics,” Jackie said. “I was trying to raise men. They heard what they needed to hear, not what they wanted to hear.
“He’s getting a lot of national attention now, but I don’t see him changing. I’ve always told my children, money and success won’t change who you are, it just makes you more of what you already are. If you’re a kind and generous person, you’ll do more kind and generous things. But if you’re a jerk, you’re going to be a bigger jerk. But I’m proud of the young man that Kyle is.”
Derrek said he doesn’t worry about how Hamilton will handle whatever comes his way.
“I’ve learned a lot from my son,” Derrek. “He’s helped me be a more mature father. I really respect him.”
Hoping For a Return to Vegas
Jackie had to talk Kyle into attending the 2022 NFL draft in Las Vegas. A low-key guy, Hamilton was just going to invite some friends and family to watch the draft at home on TV. But his mother wasn’t having it.
“We had to coax him to go,” Jackie said. “He’s just not a look-at-me kid. But that was a once-in-a lifetime experience, a reward for the hard work it took to get there. Besides, it’s Vegas!”
Going back to Vegas for the Super Bowl sounds like a great idea to all the Hamiltons. Derrek wore purple socks the night his son was drafted, not thinking Kyle would fall to No. 14 to the Ravens. Derrek keeps a picture of that night in his phone, his son surrounded by smiling faces, holding up a purple jersey in front of a purple background.
“None of it was planned, but it seems to me Kyle is right where he’s supposed to be,” Derrek said.
Hamilton agrees and appreciates where he is — still young, and doing exactly what he told his mom he wanted to do when he was 3.
“Things happen for a reason and God works in mysterious ways,” Hamilton said. “You’ve got to trust him. I have faith, and coming to the Ravens has been great for me. But it’s only the beginning.”