By Scott M. Johnson Herald Writer
The last time Casey Hamlett traveled to downtown Seattle to watch his younger brother play in a football game, his loyalties were understandably divided.
The former Washington State University defensive lineman was in the stands when his Cougars played an Oregon State team that included younger brother Connor Hamlett, a redshirt freshman and special-teamer, so cheering on the Beavers was easier said than done.
That won’t be the case Saturday night, when Connor Hamlett is back in town to play against the University of Washington at CenturyLink Field.
“I’m sure,” Connor Hamlett said of his older brother Thursday afternoon, “he’s all Beavers this weekend.”
It’s a lot easier for everyone to be a Beaver believer this time around, now that Oregon State has become the nation’s darling team. The Beavers (6-0) have come back from the dead to rise to No. 7 in the national rankings, and as if that isn’t enough to instill pride in the Hamlett family, young Connor has been a key part of the Beavers’ ascension.
The former Meadowdale High School two-sport star, now a sophomore tight end, has caught nine passes for 110 yards and a game-winning touchdown this season. He’s the Beavers’ backup tight end and a big part of their rotation.
For Connor Hamlett, who emerged from his older brother’s shadow during his junior year at Meadowdale, the 2012 season has been quite a ride.
“It’s fun,” he said. “But I’m not trying to look at any rankings so far. I’m just glad I can contribute. We’re only looking at UW this week, and then we’ll move on.”
Coming home to play the Huskies isn’t as special to Hamlett as one might think, although he’s excited about the opportunity to play in front of about 20 friends and family members. He didn’t grow up a UW fan, and he’s already played at the home stadium of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks once — when the Beavers and Cougars did battle in Seattle last October.
“I don’t get too nervous about playing in a big stadium,” he said. “It’s cool to see an NFL stadium and play in it, but it’s the same lines and the same goal posts. It’s the same game.”
Not only has Hamlett been on the big stage already, he’s also been involved in one of the Beavers’ biggest moments of the season. The 6-foot-7, 259-pound tight end caught a 9-yard touchdown pass on third-and-5, with 1:17 remaining, to beat Arizona 38-35 four weeks ago.
“It was crazy,” he said this week. “A minute left, I was coming off the sideline, and I knew the situation. It was kind of surreal. I don’t even remember the play that much; it was kind of a blur. We won game, so that’s all that matters.”
The touchdown resulted in one of Hamlett’s few brushes with fame. The cashier at the market he often frequents in Corvallis, Ore., recognized him the next day.
“‘So you’re the guy who scored the game-winning touchdown,’” Hamlett remembers the cashier saying. “I said, ‘Yeah, I guess.’ That was a fun experience.”
This entire season has been a bit of a whirlwind for Hamlett, who has gone from being a special teamer on a 3-9 team in 2011 to a major contributor on a top-10 team that has Beaver fans believing.
“There’s a lot of talk about football. It’s kind of weird,” he said. “You’ll hear people talking about the team, like professors or other students, and you’re just sitting there.
“It’s a great atmosphere. When people do recognize you, they’ll give you props on the season.”
OSU has turned out to be a pretty good fit for the younger Hamlett brother, who was so oblivious to the program while growing up in Edmonds that he “had no idea who the Beavers were.”
That all changed during his junior year at Meadowdale, when OSU began recruiting Hamlett while his brother was playing over in Pullman. Connor Hamlett attended the 2009 Civil War game between Oregon and Oregon State and soon knew where he wanted to play college football.
After back-to-back losing seasons — he redshirted as a true freshman in 2010 — Hamlett is now enjoying the spoils of being in a nationally ranked program.
“It’s good,” he said. “The Beavers are getting some recognition.”