LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — One day last month, T.J. Hammonds stood in the Joe T. Robinson High School weight room going through an intense workout when he suddenly remembered something he’d neglected at home and panicked.
Did he forget to turn off a stove burner? Leave a pet without food or water? Take off without completing a chore?
No, Hammonds had left his dinosaurs unattended.
“I had to call my dad and ask him to go in and move my joystick around so it wouldn’t lag out the server,” Hammonds recalled with a big grin. “He was asleep and I woke him up.”
Physically, everything — size, strength and speed — about Hammonds screams athlete, and he’s a terrific one. The 5-foot-11, 195-pound running back/receiver reported to Fayetteville nearly three weeks ago to begin summer workouts with the Arkansas football team after a standout high school career.
But Hammonds is also a total video game nerd, and 100 percent proud of it.
That’s why when he isn’t working out, studying his playbook or finishing homework, you can probably find him sitting a couple feet from a TV screen, holding an Xbox controller and wearing a headset while playing “Ark: Survival Evolved,” his favorite game.
In the game, players establish — and then protect — a base, and must collect and tame different types of dinosaurs, a process that can take hours.
That’s why Hammonds often is unreachable when he’s in the middle of one of his marathon gaming sessions.
“People give me a hard time because most of the time I leave my phone in another room and put it on do not disturb,” Hammonds said. “People keep texting me, ‘Why aren’t you texting me back?’
“But I mean, those dinosaurs aren’t gonna tame themselves, so I have to tame them. Other people are gonna tame them and all that stuff, and I’m gonna have nothing. I don’t wanna get ate. I don’t wanna get raided.”
Hammonds grew up in southwest Little Rock, an area known for violent crime. But with good parental support, he managed to stay out of trouble by sticking with the activities he loves: football and video games.
As a younger football player, Hammonds played left tackle.
“I was really fat,” he said with a laugh.
He slimmed up some when he reached middle school and moved to fullback, then became a wide receiver when he got to high school.
Hammonds exploded onto the recruiting scene his junior year, when he recorded 2,024 total yards of offense — 1,172 receiving and 852 rushing — and 18 touchdowns. His senior year, he played more running back, rushing for 1,375 yards and 22 touchdowns to go with 661 receiving yards and six scores.
He chose the Razorbacks over offers from the likes of Alabama, Georgia, Oklahoma State and TCU.
And although Hammonds’ exact position with Arkansas is up in the air — he could be a running back or a receiver — one thing he will remain in Fayetteville is a video gamer.
“Oh, I’m taking the Xbox with me,” he said last month, a few days before he reported to Fayetteville. “I’m making sure I pack that because it’s my life. When I get older, I’m gonna still be playing video games. I’m gonna still be playing ‘Ark.’
“I’ve always been a gamer. It just makes me happy.”