Exclusive Q&A: Lightning Lion KJ Hamler
UNIVERSITY PARK — Last fall, KJ Hamler was widely regarded by teammates and coaches as the player most likely to have a breakout season.
The star wide receiver did just that, meeting (and in some cases, exceeding) those lofty expectations. In his redshirt freshman campaign, Hamler broke the program record for all-purpose yards by a freshman, totaling 1,417 yards. He finished with 42 catches for 754 yards and five touchdowns.
This year, however, Hamler won’t sneak up on anybody, least of all opposing defenses. He’s landed on preseason watch lists for both national player of the year and most outstanding receiver.
Find out what Hamler has learned - from former teammate and current Denver Broncos receiver DaeSean Hamilton and last year during his breakout campaign - what it’s like to score a touchdown at Beaver Stadium, and plenty more in our exclusive Q&A.
Happy Valley.com: When you evaluate yourself, where have you improved the most since arriving on campus?
KJ Hamler: Mostly, just slowing down the tempo of the game. I used to think a lot redshirt year, going through to my past year. DaeSean is always talking about slowing down the game because when I was in the game, I used to think too much, and then that would cause me to mess up. DaeSean Hamilton always told me just slow the game down, and once you slow the game down, it becomes easier to you, so you can play faster, play better.
Happy Valley.com: How do you see your role on this team, and do you consider yourself a leader?
KJ Hamler: Like I tell everybody, I became a rookie to a vet real quick. My boy Juwan (Johnson) left, Brandon Polk left, DeAndre (Thompkins) left. A lot of people say I’m the most veteran receiver in the room, so I have to step up and take that role. You know, it’s not that easy taking the leadership role. I think I’m a natural leader, but I don’t like telling people what to do and things of that nature. I feel like we’re all grown men, we can handle our business. We should know right from wrong, stuff like that. From a receiver group, from a receiver standpoint, we all know what to do. We all know that we need to catch extra balls every day, after lifting. We don’t leave the facility until we do that, so we’re all accountable for our actions.
Happy Valley.com: Have you given much thought yet to what you want to accomplish this season, and even during your career at Penn State?
KJ Hamler: I’ve always thought about that. Coming here and being good friends with Saquon and Allen Robinson — he went to my high school when I was at Michigan — talking to those guys, seeing those guys on the All-American walls is very motivating. Then seeing where they’re at right now is another thing. Talking to those guys and asking questions: What did they do every day, what did they work on, stuff like that, because I’m not the most blessed kid with size, so I have to separate myself from others with my speed and quickness. Then my ability to jump, as well, just to make spectacular things happen. Learning from those guys and seeing them on the walls, stuff like that gives me motivation.
Happy Valley.com: You mentioned Saquon and Allen Robinson in the NFL, do you think about that and use that as motivation?
KJ Hamler: That’s the dream. I don’t think nothing else is stopping me more. That’s like the only goal that I have right now, because where I’m from (Pontiac, Michigan) you hear a lot of names called from that area, Detroit metro area. I’m just trying to make something happen; hopefully, God blesses me to get me there to that opportunity when I need it. I pray every day that I make it, but first I’ve got to worry about the team right now that I’m on, Penn State, and just worrying about winning. National championship is our goal, 15-0 is our goal, so that’s all I’m thinking about right now, so the other stuff can come later.
Happy Valley.com: Teammates and coaches talked a lot about how you were going to be the breakout player last year, and you met or exceeded everyone’s expectations. Are there one or two lessons you learned from last year that will serve you well this season?
KJ Hamler: I think one lesson just is to be yourself. Everybody said at the beginning of the App State game, I was a little tense, first game, freshman starting, so it was like how am I gonna play this? When Coach Franklin told me to just be yourself, have fun with it, I started to open up and relax and just remember what DeaSean told me: just slow the game down, everything will be fine, and that’s when it all started to come to me. I think being myself and just letting your work show, if that makes sense. Everything that you’re taught in practice, everything that coaches teach you, don’t try to switch it up, just do your thing, do what you’re taught, and it will work in the end.
Happy Valley.com: You’re always smiling, and it’s clear you love playing football. How does that approach help you on the field?
KJ Hamler: The only time you won’t see me smiling if we lose, that’s the only time you won’t see me smile. It comes from the workouts to the classroom to the field. Basically, how I take football. If someone sees me complaining about a drill, they’re going to want to complain about the drill; if someone sees me not going to class, they’re not going to go to class; so me stepping up and being in that leader role, I can’t let that happen. I can’t let my other teammates down. Being the more positive energy guy, I have to do everything in my hands just to get chemistry going and set the tempo, because we don’t want anyone lacking. I think people look upon me as a role model now, especially in the receiver room. It’s real different now, becoming a rookie to a vet real quick, but stuff happens.
Happy Valley.com: What does it feel like to score a touchdown at Beaver Stadium, especially in the immediate moments after when the crowd is roaring?
KJ Hamler: It’s scary, to be honest. It’s just like when you’re running, you can feel the ground shaking and it freaks me out a little bit, so it makes me run fast. I feel like someone is chasing me — it’s like getting chased by a pit bull, if that’s ever happened to anybody. You’re running for your life, and then once you hit the end zone, once you cross that line, that pylon, you’re just so relieved. It’s like you touch the end zone, it gives you a boost of energy. It’s a weird feeling to be honest, scoring a touchdown is a weird feeling. But that stadium is just so energetic and so electric, it makes you want to play in there. It doesn’t matter what the conditions are: rain, snow, sleet, doesn’t matter. Beaver Stadium is probably one of the most exciting stadiums I’ve ever played.
KJ Hamler and the Nittany Lions kick off their 2019 schedule on Saturday, August 31 wth a 3:30 kickoff against Idaho at Beaver Stadium. Keep returning to Happy Valley.com, your source for all things Penn State and #HappyValley, all season long for more exclusive coverage of the team, and be sure to check out The Obligatory PSU Pregame Show and The Obligatory PSU Podcast featuring former Penn State and NFL defensive tackle Brandon Noble, campus icon Mike the Mailman, Chris Buchignani, and Kevin Horne.