A.J. Hamilton

Dunnellon’s A.J. Hamilton celebrates after a big defensive play during last season’s regional championship victory at The Villages.

A.J. Hamilton is a good football player.

He’s a really a good football player; good enough to make the All-Chronicle team in 2018. Good enough to field Division I offers and verbally commit to USF.

Sure, the Dunnellon senior brings a lot to the table as both a slot back and a cornerback. But that’s only a fraction of what he does to set the standard for his teammates and eventual successors.

"He’s really fast," Dunnellon head coach Price Harris said. "But more importantly he’s a great kid. He cares about his teammates. He cares about the community.

"He’s a special athlete. He has speed and strength. Throw in that he cares and he’s smart, and all of that adds up to a great football player."

Last season, Hamilton had 25 tackles, five pass breakups, an interception and a fumble recovery, and ran for 289 yards and four touchdowns. So far this year he has rushed for a touchdown in each of the first two games, and recorded three tackles.

That’s all well and good, but then there’s his 4.3 GPA and the fact he could have opted to graduate already if he didn’t want to stick around and play football.

"If you’ve got good grades and you’re a good athlete, everything else falls into place," Hamilton said. "What I try to do is keep everybody out of trouble and help them to see that grades are really important."

All of those attributes and that type of attitude are why Harris calls Hamilton, "a rare combination in today’s society."

"He makes people feel good about themselves and he works extremely hard," Harris said. "He’s always trying to do things the right way. He’s got a ton of respect from his teammates and coaches. He sets a precedent for the younger kids."

The leadership aspect is something Hamilton embraces, saying it’s a role he has played on his teams going back to Pop Warner. He was selected as one of the captains for the Tigers this year.

"Me growing up, I had a bunch of leadership in front of me," Hamilton said. "Without that leadership the team would not be where it needs to be.

"I know if I’ve got eyes on me, then the people watching me will feel like that’s what they need to do. I know I have to go hard to push us to be better."

His teammates and coaches aren’t the only ones watching. Hamilton received offers from FAU, Kentucky and Southern Miss, but thus far he has chosen the Bulls.

"On other visits I felt welcome, but USF felt like home," Hamilton said. "The coaches welcomed me and made me feel special. Coach (Charlie) Strong is a really great coach."

Before he gets to USF, Hamilton still has some business to attend to in a Dunnellon uniform. Defensively, he wants to allow zero touchdowns thrown against him and snag seven interceptions, matching his jersey number. He wouldn’t mind scoring 10 touchdowns on offense, either.

However, his goals are truly more team-oriented. He already helped the Tiger reach the Final Four in Class 4A in 2018, and would like to make that happen again even though Dunnellon got moved up to 5A.

In starting 2-0, the Tigers have had to overcome some weather-related adversity. That includes rained-out practices, as well as having last week’s game moved up to Thursday and this week’s home opener versus Crystal River shifted to Saturday due to Hurricane Dorian.

"With the team we’ve got now and the potential, I feel like we can go for a state title," Hamilton said. "I think we’re excited for it, especially going to the FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) camp (over the summer), we played 7A, 8A teams that won states. If we’re keeping up with them, we feel real good in our district.

"I want to leave behind how hard we worked. I want to leave a legacy of having a good record, but also having a hard-working team that fought through anything."

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Contact Chronicle sports reporter Chris Bernhardt at 352-563-5660, chris.bernhardt@chronicleonline.com or on twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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