They say that speed kills. It's true, too -- speed, in almost any aspect of sport or life, is a critical x-factor to help divide the winners and the losers. A fastball piped down the middle will challenge even the best of hitters with enough velocity. A lightning fast release can be the difference between a sack or a completed pass. And just the slightest hesitation in the secondary...
Penn State's KJ Hamler knows all about speed. The diminutive receiver uses it to thrive on the football field, both as a ball carrier and a route runner. That speed? It requires the attention of the defense at all times -- nay. It commands attention. Because Hamler, all 5-foot-9, 176 pounds of him, is the biggest presence on the field for Penn State each Saturday. If you blink, you'll miss him. And he'll kill you for it.
But pure speed along doesn't get you very far in football -- you need refinement, polish and technique. Without them, even the fastest of athletes can waste precious real estate or be leveraged out of plays. And that's where things get scary with Penn State's KJ Hamler: he's only scratching the surface of who he can be as not just a speed demon, but a football player. Hamler missed two full seasons of football in 2016 and 2017 -- all on account of an ACL tear suffered while playing at the IMG Academy during his senior year of high school. Before the preseason injury, Hamler had offers from 26 schools, including Penn State, Oregon, Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi State, Michigan and Michigan State. It was a devastating injury at the time, but Penn State never flinched in their desire for Hamler, who is now reaping the benefits of the rest, recovery and time away from the gridiron. A redshirt season in 2017 helped Hamler not just recover from his injury, but helped to prep him for his now featured role in the Lions offense. 2018 was all about getting his legs back.
2019? The sky is the limit.
Hamler isn't disappointing so far, either. Through Penn State's first five games of the 2019 season, Hamler has logged 19 receptions for 394 yards and 4 touchdowns while adding another 180 return yards on 18 returns. He's an all-purpose nightmare.
There will be those out there who scoff at the headline of this article -- don't be among them. Hamler entered 2018 without national fanfare and ended up playing third fiddle behind Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders last season. And so other athletes across the country will have more developed followings. More robust resumes for the NFL Draft. And probably look more of the part. To which again we say: speed kills. Hamler's got it. And he's begun adding more nuance to the rest of his game, too.
Hamler went 24 months (742 days, to be exact) between competitive football games before taking the field versus Appalachian State last season, so it'd be understandable for him to lack refinement as a route runner throughout his 2018 tape. Turn on the 2019 film and you'll see a player starting to adopt the little things. There's more controlled, subtle steps to pair with that explosiveness -- looking as potent as ever.
And then there's the wiggle. Oh, the wiggle.
Goodness, gracious. The "quick twitch" here is sublime -- as is the acceleration when Hamler's decided he's done playing with his food. Just how fast is he? Not even Hamler knows...but he's got a hunch.
On account of the knee injury and the subsequent recovery, Hamler wasn't afforded an opportunity to run a during Penn State's offseason strength and conditioning until this past offseason -- and even then he missed his flight back to Happy Valley and missed the testing. The fastest recorded 40-time at Penn State is a 4.30, but that won't stand much longer if Hamler has his way. He's predicted he'll run somewhere between a 4.25 and a 4.28 second 40-yard dash when the time comes for him to run.
So when Penn State takes the field, don't miss the ride. Buckle in, enjoy the show and prepare to be thrilled. Just don't blink -- you might miss it.