UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Before Saturday's Indiana matchup, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton knew right where he was slotted on Penn State's all-time career receptions list.
Before pulling on his custom "Generations of Greatness" uniform inside the locker room at Beaver Stadium, Hamilton had already caught 172 career passes for the Nittany Lions, but career records were hardly top of mind as kickoff arrived.
Hamilton's first reception of the day came on Penn State's first scoring drive in the first quarter, a 4-yard grab with the Nittany Lions already leading 7-0 helped out by running back Saquon Barkley's sensational 98-yard return for a touchdown on the opening kickoff. His second, a 23-yard pass from quarterback Trace McSorley. It was his third, that sent Penn State surging ahead 28-0, this time an 8-yard touchdown grab from McSorley right before halftime.
As Hamilton's receptions piled up, it seemed only fitting that his seventh catch of the day to tie the all-time record came by way of a 24-yard touchdown pass from McSorley in the third quarter, one that almost got wiped away.
"I was sweating bullets," Hamilton said postgame looking back on the play. "I was hoping and praying. This was my first multi-touchdown game too. I didn't know if I was going to get another target in the red zone. I was praying and hoping they didn't call offensive pass interference."
Hamilton only continued though, officially climbing to the top spot in the Penn State record book on a 25-yard grab from McSorley in the fourth quarter, jumping in the air to make the catch along the sideline.
"During the game, I didn't really keep track of it until I heard it on the loudspeaker and then really, it felt special right then and there," Hamilton said. "Coming off the field and guys congratulating me, that was really special too."
He was hardly finished though, closing out a record-setting day with a 16-yard touchdown catch from Barkley. Yes, Barkley.
"We've been going over that play for a little while," Hamilton said. "Obviously Saquon is going to draw a lot of attention when he has the ball in hands so the last thing people are going to expect is for him to throw the ball so that play just worked out perfectly."
Perfect is exactly the way to describe his third touchdown grab of the day, or career reception No. 181.
In total, Hamilton led the Nittany Lions past the Hoosiers for a fifth consecutive win with nine receptions for 122 yards and three touchdowns, marking his sixth-career 100-yard receiving performance. His first career outing with three touchdown catches also marked the most touchdown grabs for a Nittany Lion since Allen Robinson had three in 2012, a former Nittany Lion who Hamilton also passed on the way to 181.
"It's really cool seeing the names of the guys I passed on the list and seeing how great of players they were here and basically how great their careers were after this, it's really special to see," Hamilton said. "It really just goes to a lot of hard work that I've put in, a lot of guys that have been working with me, it's really special."
Getting to 181 career receptions is by no means an effortless accomplishment, but now it's all part of a challenging journey for Hamilton, who proved year in and year out that in the end, hard work wins.
In his redshirt freshman season following an injury that sidelined him in 2013, Hamilton started all 13 games and finished atop the Big Ten standings with 82 receptions, ranked fourth with 69.2 receiving yards per game and fifth with 889 receiving yards. By 2015 though, Hamilton finished his sophomore season with 45 receptions and 580 receiving yards and closed out the 2016 season with 34 receptions and 506 receiving yards, although averaging 14.9 yards per catch.
In the offseason following a Big Ten Championship year in which he highlighted the title game with eight catches and 118 yards, there's perhaps no better example of tenacity than in Hamilton's drive and determination to make the most of 2017.
Beaming with pride at the mention of Hamilton's record, Penn State head coach James Franklin noted postgame that he addressed Hamilton's milestone in the locker room following the 45-14 win against Indiana.
"I think he is a great example for our younger players, I think he is a great example in general," Franklin said. "He gets here as a true freshman, he has a pre-existing injury and sits out his entire freshman year. Next year, plays as a redshirt-freshman, has a huge year. One year he leads the Big Ten in catches, the next year his numbers go way down, he stays positive, he just keep working and grinding to get through it. He has had a great career, he has been a great leader, a great teammate and he's a great student.
Long before Saturday though, Franklin, the staff, and seemingly each and every one of Hamilton's teammates all could have easily predicted his success. From spring ball on through training camp, Hamilton's name came up in nearly every media session as a Nittany Lion poised to step forward for a big impact headed into another year in Penn State's explosive offense. Off the field though, there were just as many references to his soon-to-be success as there were about his character.
"Nobody works harder than that guy and no one deserves it more than him," McSorley said. "I mean he works so hard on his own, early morning, late nights when nobody is around, honestly nobody knows about that but himself. That dude, he's put in so much work his whole career. He has had his ups and downs throughout his career, but he's continued to step up and never let that waver his work ethic."Hamilton Makes History