Gophers offense centered by reliable Hamilton

by David La

There’s no better way to get a firsthand look at one of the most anonymous positions in football than to go head-to-head with one of the Big Ten’s best.
At the prodding of a reporter, Gophers’ junior center Ben Hamilton lined up in a three-point stance to exhibit his blocking techniques.
The two-time honorable mention All-Big Ten selection — who gave up only one sack and was not penalized once last season — went through the motion of snapping the ball and had his hands up to the blocking position in about the time it takes a person to hiccup.
The eldest son of former Vikings’ guard Wes Hamilton, Ben is a chip off the old blocker. But just like most fans of the game, dad’s toiling in the trenches went unnoticed by his son.
“I’d go there more to eat hot dogs than to watch him play,” Ben said. “I really didn’t think it was that big of a deal.”
As he got older, Ben had a change of heart. Like a lot of sons, he decided he wanted to be just like dad. Hamilton played guard for his first three high school seasons at Wayzata, but switched to center before his senior year.
While the name of the position played by father and son differ, one intangibility that has remained the same is durability.
Wes played from 1976-85 and appeared in 46-consecutive games between 1977-79. Ben has 24-straight starts under his belt going into Saturdays game against Louisiana-Monroe.
The number of consecutive starts made is one of the few individual numbers in which offensive lineman can take pride. “Pancake” blocks are another.
A pancake block refers to an instance where the defender is put on his back by an offensive lineman. The 6-foot-5, 271 pound Hamilton made 43 such blocks last season, and racked up nine last weekend.
His performance against Ohio was praised by Head Coach Glen Mason who said of Hamilton, “I’ve never coached a guy that dominated that position in a single football game like he did Saturday.”
“When everything goes right, you get those kinds of blocks,” Hamilton said. “When you get low, come off hard, get inside your man, those blocks happen. It kind of re-enforces the technique that (the coaches) teach us.
“For an offensive lineman, when you knock somebody down to the ground, it’s always a pretty good feeling.”
Hamilton’s relish for the physical side of the game is essential. After all, football is not a popularity contest.
“I’m pretty nice off the field,” Hamilton said. “On the field I can be a little meaner. But that’s something you just have to turn on and turn off. When it’s time to play you just have to get your mean on.”
While it undoubtedly helps to be mean, it’s imperative that the men of the line stay smart. Quarterbacks, running backs and receivers are called the “skill positions”, but Hamilton and his linemates know that the Gophers’ Paul Reveres won’t get far without their horses.
“I spend a lot of time preparing, watching film and just going over my plays,” Hamilton said of his trade secrets. “It helps cut back on those mental mistakes and penalties.”
Cutting back on mistakes will be a critical part of the Gophers’ bowl game picture this season. While it’s anybody’s guess how each play will end, Hamilton’s steady hands ensure exactly how it will start.
“The offense starts off with the front five,” quarterback Billy Cockerham said. “When you have a solid center who’s real smart; knows what he’s doing, knows what calls to make, it makes a lot of other guys’ jobs easier.
“He’s one of those silent leaders. He really doesn’t say too much but you know that he’s getting the job done, and that’s what really counts.”
David La Vaque covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]