By ANDRE JOHNSON
He grew up in Frayser, in the heart of Northeast Memphis, where his passion for playing pickup football games in neighborhood vacant lots were overshadowed often by gang violence, drugs, and crime.
That he was exposed to an array of hardship in what is considered a poverty-stricken community, Ken Hamlin felt it was essential that he devise some sort of plan to help support his family.
To this end, the former Frayser High senior class vice-president and member of the National Honor Society eventually turned to the gridiron as his ultimate outlet.
For Hamlin, it’s safe to say that football was a road worth taking, given the success and wealth he has garnered since entering the NFL ranks after a three-year, All-Southeastern Conference tenure at the University of Arkansas. Now in his sixth NFL season, the ex-Seattle Seahawk is the starting safety for the Dallas Cowboys, operating in the secondary alongside former Texas All-American Roy Williams. So fierce and dominant are the two that they’ve been dubbed one of the league’s hardest hitting tandems, according to numerous analysts and writers who follow the NFL.
And despite playing for the underachieving Cowboys in a season filled with on-and-off-the-field distractions, Hamlin is making certain that the only thing he’s guilty of in Big D is exemplifying pride and infatuation for arguably one of the highest-profile franchises in all of professional sports.
Of course, you can’t echo the same for several other big name personalities affiliated with what the sports universe has labeled America’s Team.
Terrell Owens, it seems, can’t refrain from mouthing off about teammates to reporters and throwing sideline temper tantrums. Adam "Pacman" Jones, despite being slapped with multiple suspensions by Commissioner Roger Goodell, refuses to stay away from nightclubs and having run-ins with the law. And longtime owner Jerry Jones, it appears, is still his usual meddlesome self, most notably publicly criticizing running Marion Barber’s toe injury following the team’s recent fourth-quarter meltdown at Pittsburgh. Hamlin, meanwhile, just happens to be associated with all of the recent negativity surrounding what has become a wishy-washy Cowboys bunch of late. However, he’d be the first to tell you he has nothing but gratitude for the organization and for all of those with ties to it.
"The organization does a great job of keeping the past and present on the map," Hamlin said. "You see (former players) walking through the locker room. It definitely puts a smile on your face. I never thought I’d be playing for the Cowboys."
One reason is that playing in Big D almost never happened, and it didn’t have anything to do with him being raised in a rough neighborhood. Three years ago, while with the Seahawks, controversy surrounded Hamlin when he was involved in an altercation with two other men outside a nightclub, several hours after the Seahawks had beaten the Houston Texans. According to a police report, Hamlin sustained a fractured skull, a small blood clot and bruising of the brain tissue. Consequently, he missed the final two months of season, and was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury list.
Hamlin, of course, chose not to comment on the brawl that, fortunately for him, wasn’t life-threatening, but shortened his third professional season by ten games. Nevertheless, this one-time Pro Bowler realizes he can’t afford to make similar ill-advised choices, especially in a league where the strict commish is committed to holding players accountable for off-the-field issues. Not only that, Hamlin admittedly would prefer to hang up his cleats as a member of the five-time Super Bowl champs, who solidified his future with a six-year, $36 million contract, days before training camp began last summer.
Not bad for the former high school baseball and track and field phenom, who chose football as his ultimate outlet.
So while he savors the fame and fortunate of an NFL stint that has gone from good to bad and back to good, the obvious question now lingers for Hamlin, who turns 28 on January 20: What is there else left to do as one of the cast members of a rugged Cowboys defense that’s among the league’s best? As far as Hamlin is concerned, helping propel the Cowboys to a sixth world championship and taking good care of his body head his list.
He said it is imperative that pro athletes make it point to eat a good breakfast, particularly on game day, a routine Hamlin said he rarely passes up. Additionally, although he’s a fixture in the Cowboys’ weight room, he often switches up his daily running routines as an ideal way of balancing his mandatory conditioning schedule. Although most NFL players spend their respective bye week booking flights, making television and radio appearances, or rehabbing, Hamlin is one of only few players who devote long hours to prepping for the next opponent.
"I lift (weights) at each day and I fine tune certain things with my body," Hamlin said. "I also try to eat healthy food to help my body recover from soreness and bumps and bruises. Your body is your job, and you have to keep it operating at a high level."
Especially when your employer happens to be in the rugged NFC East and you makes up one half of the NFL’s hardest hitting tandems.