TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It’s been a long road to recovery, but Alabama linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton finally feels like himself again.
Hamilton sustained a torn right ACL in the first half of the SEC Championship Game vs. Florida last season while trying to make a tackle. He recalls getting his foot stuck in the turf and feeling his knee twist.
He spent all of spring practice rehabbing and working with the athletic training staff while not taking any contact on the field.
“I would probably say the first day of summer workouts,” Hamilton said of when things started to feel normal. “It was like the first day of school again to be out there with my teammates. Every day is an opportunity.”
Hamilton was back in his usual spot when Alabama opened fall camp on Thursday. He and fellow senior Rashaan Evans are Alabama’s top two inside linebackers.
Evans filled in for Hamilton following the injury, allowing Evans to get starting experience. Now the teammates have a chance to be one of the top linebacker duos in the country.
“It feels really good (to be back),” Hamilton said. “It’s been a little while and I’ve put in the hard work to get back on the field and I’m just happy to be out there with my teammates.”
Hamilton is somewhat of a forgotten man in the wake of his injury. He was left off several preseason award watch lists despite his strong play last season. Prior to his injury, Hamilton was in the midst of a breakout junior season. He was third on the team with 64 tackles, including 9 tackles for loss and 2 sacks. Hamilton also added 2 interceptions and a forced fumble.
Hamilton doesn’t feel sorry for himself, though. His time off the field allowed him to serve as a coach and mentor to some of his younger teammates.
“You know you’ve just got to embrace it,” Hamilton said of rehab. “You can’t get down on yourself. God does everything for a reason. So it’s just how I took it. I embraced the grind and the challenge.”
With Reuben Foster moving on to the NFL, Hamilton will be the leader in the middle of Alabama’s defense this season. Hamilton will be in charge of making all of the on-field calls and adjustments.
Along with replacing Foster, Alabama’s defense must find new playmakers to step in for Jonathan Allen, Dalvin Tomlinson, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams, Marlon Humphrey and Eddie Jackson.
If there is a team could reload after losing that much talent, it’s Alabama. Hamilton doesn’t expect a drop-off in 2017.
“At this place it’s all about competition. That’s one thing that Coach [Nick Saban] preaches when guys get here,” he said. “There’s no depth chart and none of the [recruit-rating] stars mean anything. That’s one reason we’re so successful. The younger guys come in pushing the older guys and they learn from us. Just all this great talent brings out the best in everybody.”