Cobi Hamilton: A Breakout Performer In a Dismal Season
Deborah Hamilton didn’t let her son play football growing up because it was too violent and she didn’t want him to get hurt.
Instead, Cobi Hamilton played baseball as a centerfielder. From his childhood years until his freshman year in high school, he played with guys like former Razorback second baseman Bo Bigham and current Razorback pitcher Randall Fant.
“In my mind, he was a baseball player,” Deborah Hamilton said.
Then, one day in P.E., he was playing football with some of his friends. One of them threw Cobi the ball and he caught the pass, as well as the attention of the football coaches.
When Hamilton joined the Texas High football team in Texarkana, Texas, he was just a “tall, thin kid,” Texas High head coach Barry Norton said.
Because he had never played football before, Hamilton needed to start with the basics. As an underclassman, he worked with an assistant coach on his running form every morning.
“Early on he was just learning to play, but he was a guy I saw potential in,” Norton said. “Once he learned how to run, he won the 200-meter state championship in track.”
Hamilton brought that speed to the field and started to develop it over his junior season. That season, he caught 29 passes for 726 yards and seven touchdowns.
By the time his senior year rolled around, he was primed for a breakout season.
“He worked extremely hard,” Norton said. “He would stay after practice and work even more. Every Thursday, he would make the quarterbacks stay with him and work on routes.”
His hard work paid off in the form of 64 receptions for 14 touchdowns and a single-season school record of 1,071 yards.
He was named the All-Northeast Texas Offensive Player of the Year as awards started piling up. Rivals.com rated him as the No. 63 receiver in the country, Scout.com rated him as No. 108 in the country, and he earned All-District and All-Area honors.
Nine Football Bowl Subdivision, formerly Division IA, schools offered Hamilton a scholarship, including Auburn, Oklahoma State and Texas.
Becoming a Razorback
However, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his mother and become an Arkansas Razorback. Deborah Hamilton, formerly Deborah Cooper, was a guard on the 1976-77 Razorback women’s basketball team and was one of the first two African-American women to play basketball at Arkansas.
When Hamilton arrived as part of the 2009 recruiting class, Arkansas had a lot of depth at wide receiver. In the 2008 recruiting class, Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright signed with the Razorbacks.
“I put in a lot of time being behind all of those great receivers and learning the little things from them,” Hamilton said.
Although he didn’t get a lot of passes thrown his way, he did show flashes of great play.
Against Mississippi State, as a freshman, Hamilton caught three passes for 131 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown and 58-yard touchdown. During his sophomore year, he caught seven passes for 111 yards against South Carolina and had a breakout performance against LSU in Little Rock.
After his first reception lost a yard, his next two receptions were 80- and 85-yard touchdowns. The second came as time expired in the second quarter, giving Arkansas a 21-14 lead at the half, which ultimately led to a victory and Sugar Bowl berth.
During his junior year, he had one 100-yard game, with 132 yards against New Mexico, but again, he wasn’t consistent throughout the season.
“When we had Jarius, Joe and Greg here, everyone talked about Cobi as the 200-meter guy that takes a while to get going, but when he gets down field, he can really blow by some people,” senior quarterback Tyler Wilson said.
So as he did in high school, Hamilton started working with an assistant coach, but this time he was looking to improve his quickness, not speed.
Stellar Senior Season
“I got real serious in the weight room two years ago, and I really wanted to focus on my quickness off the line of scrimmage,” Hamilton said.
Hamilton’s statistics prove that his work paid off yet again. He has become much more consistent and evolved from the “200 meter guy.”
Coming into the season, he only had four 100-yard receiving games in 39 games, but has matched that total through just 11 games this season.
“He’s explosive,” Wilson said. “He’s done a great job of figuring out how to get off the line quicker and that has made him such a dynamic receiver.”
UA offensive coordinator Paul Petrino has also pointed to Hamilton’s quickness as something that makes him stand out among other receivers.
“He has an ability to stop and get out of his breaks,” Petrino said. “That’s what separates the good from the great, who can get separation at the top of their routes.”
With the graduation of Adams, Childs and Wright, Hamilton has vaulted into the number-one role. More than a third of Wilson’s completions this season have been to Hamilton.
“It’s important to have one receiver that you have a really good relationship with, so when you’re in trouble, you can get it in their hands,” Wilson said. “That’s Cobi for me.”
The relationship between Wilson and Hamilton can be traced back several months before the season to the “countless hours we met on the hot turf, which carried over to fall camp and that carried over to the season,” Hamilton said.
Despite going up against the opposing team’s top defender and sometimes facing double teams, he has still managed to put up big numbers. He now holds the UA single-season records for receptions, with 80, and receiving yards, with 1,237, which he set earlier this season.
Against Rutgers, Hamilton hauled in 303 receiving yards, breaking a UA and Southeastern Conference single-game record.
School records for career receptions and receiving yards are also seemingly within reach. He only needs 4 receptions and 179 receiving yards against LSU to pass Jarius Wright for first in UA history.
Wright, who is now in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, has taken notice.
“It’s good to see the lil bro @CobiHam11 breaking my records. I’ve watched him grow into a premier player,” Wright tweeted before Arkansas played South Carolina.
Other awards have started coming in. He was the SEC co-Offensive Player of the Week after playing Rutgers. He was named to the Maxwell Award Watch List. Most recently, he was named one of 10 semifinalists for the Biletnikoff Award, which is awarded to the country’s best wide receiver.
Hamilton is moving up the record books, but Arkansas’ season has not gone the way he, nor anyone else, expected. After rising to a No. 8 ranking in the AP poll, their record has fallen to 4-7 overall and 2-5 in the SEC, meaning they will not make a bowl game for the first time since 2008.
“It’s been like a roller coaster ride,” Hamilton said. “You want to feel like you’re on top of the world (after big games), but after tough losses, you have your lows.”
The losses haven’t deterred him, though. He will continue to work as he has since high school and enjoy his remaining time as a Razorback before graduating, not necessarily focusing on the records he could potentially break.
“I just go out there and compete, that’s what it comes down to on Saturdays. Make plays and have fun,” Hamilton said. “I want to finish the season well and enjoy being with my teammates. Whatever numbers I end up with, that’s just what it is.”