Hamilton brightens UA’s year


FAYETTEVILLE — Cobi Hamilton can’t keep up with the statistics.

Every Saturday, though, it seems as if a member of Arkansas’ media relations staff has something important to pass along to the wide receiver. Hamilton has etched his name into the school’s record books once again by breaking another mark.

So it’s understandable Hamilton wasn’t clued in on the fact he enters the final two games of the season within striking distance of Arkansas’ career receiving records.

“You guys ask me about these numbers every week,” Hamilton said. “I don’t even know the career mark. … If anything is reachable, you want to go get it.”

There hasn’t been much for Arkansas to remember about the 2012 season, which will go down as one of the most disappointing in school history. But in that disappointment, Hamilton has enjoyed the best season for an Arkansas receiver.

The rundown of accolades is impressive: Hamilton set the school and SEC receiving record with a 303-yard performance against Rutgers on Sept. 22. He snapped Arkansas’ single-season receptions mark in the Tulsa win on Nov. 3. Hamilton set the school’s single-season receiving yards mark in last week’s loss at South Carolina and was named one of 10 finalists for the 2012 Biletnikoff Award on Monday.

Hamilton can claim two more records over the final two regular season games. He is 10 receptions shy of Wright’s record for career catches (168). Hamilton also needs 267 receiving yards to eclipse his career yardage mark (2,934).

It will take some work, especially if Arkansas doesn’t reach a bowl game. But Hamilton’s big year with the Razorbacks has shown he is more than capable.

“He’s done an incredible job and he’s going to have a chance to make his name high in those books,” Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson said before the South Carolina game. “I’m going to continue to try to get it to him. We have some other guys who are going to make plays for us, but Cobi’s done an exceptional job.”

It’s what Arkansas was counting on when Wright, Joe Adams and Greg Childs headed off to the NFL after the 2011 season.

Hamilton took a backseat to the trio throughout most of his career. But coaches said he had the best skill set of the three — size, speed, hands, big-play ability — and believed they would be obvious as he became Wilson’s go-to receiver in 2012.

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said there’s no question Hamilton has delivered.

“I thought that would probably happen,” Petrino said. “I thought it needed to happen because you don’t have Jarius, Joe, Chris Gragg, Greg Childs. So when you don’t have all those guys, it gives him a better chance to make it. But I said that at the end of the spring and the end of two-a-days, that Cobi was going to have a big year.”

Hamilton leads the SEC in receiving yards a game (114.9) and also ranks fifth nationally. He is the first player in school history to have four games with 10 or more catches. Hamilton also has four 100-yard performances this season.

“It’s amazing to see just how much pressure and how much attention he’s getting and he’s still being the No. 1 guy, the best receiver in the league,” Arkansas receiver Demetrius Wilson said. “It’s amazing how slips a double coverage or just a single one-on-one coverage with the safety high. It’s an honor just to have film and be able to watch him throughout practice and games to see how he progresses.”

Hamilton has produced even though injuries and absences have hurt the Hogs.

Tight end Chris Gragg, who was expected to be among Wilson’s top targets as well this season, has only played in three full games because of injury. Brandon Mitchell, who was third on the team in receiving, has been held out of the past three games.

So opponents have been able to concentrate on Hamilton, but he still finds ways to get open for receptions. Wilson said part of the credit goes to the Arkansas offense, but the rest is thanks to the Hamilton’s growth as a receiver.

“He’s done such a great job in the past six months of figuring out how to get off the line so much quicker than he has in the past and that’s made him such a dynamic receiver,” Wilson said. “We can get the ball to him quicker. It allows him to get in passing lanes and windows quicker. And stretch the field a little quicker.

“That’s being able to get the ball to him and make some big plays.”

Hamilton said it was an area he has worked hard at the past two years. He admits it first took a decision to take weightlifting seriously. Hamilton has worked with the Arkansas strength and conditioning staff to help be better equipped physically.

“I really wanted to focus on my quickness off the line of scrimmage,” Hamilton said. “I got (strength) coach (Jason Veltkamp) and (assistant strength) coach Brad Stewart did a good job of helping me out with my quickness. It’s giving me the initial burst that I really needed. I think it really helped me a lot. I’m not there yet.”

Hamilton — by his lofty standards this season — was limited to four catches for 72 yards last week. And, despite his success all year, has only reached the end zone four times. He hasn’t scored since his three-touchdown performance in the Rutgers win.

So Arkansas is aiming for more success as the passing attack faces one of its biggest challenges of the season at Mississippi State. The Bulldogs are led by a strong secondary, which includes cornerback Johnthan Banks.

Hamilton said he’s approaching the challenge like any other this season.

“It’s kind of exciting to show up on game day,” Hamilton said. “The opposing team, they’re keying you, they’re eyeing you. They’re expecting you to make big plays. So it’s kind of fun to go into that kind of atmosphere and try to make things happen.”

Will it lead to more school records? That remains to be seen.

Hamilton said he doesn’t know them and isn’t looking for them. His only goal, now, is to enjoy the final two games of the regular season with his teammates. If all goes well, there will be another opportunity in a bowl game to add to what is already cemented as the best single-season performance by a receiver in school history.

“I just want to finish the season up well and really just enjoy these teammates,” Hamilton said. “I just want to have fun these last couple of weeks and whatever happens, happens. Whatever numbers I end up with, that’s just what it is.”