Brotherly Love Beyond Words: PSU WR's Unique Bond with Sibling with Autism

Matt Hayes@matthayescfbSenior National College Football WriterDecember 29, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - NOVEMBER 18:  DaeSean Hamilton #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions participates in a pregame ceremony honoring seniors before the game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers on November 18, 2017 at Beaver Stadium in University Park, Pennsylvania. Penn State defeats Nebraska 56-44.  (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The cameras won't follow his every move, and the broadcast team won't talk incessantly about his NFL future.

They won't gush over an All-American season or constantly replay Heisman moments or embarrassing antics. DaeSean Hamilton will just play football for the last time at Penn State.

"He's everything you could want from a young man," Penn State coach James Franklin said.

Franklin stops midsentence, searching for the appropriate way to explain his last four years with the one player who has meant so much to the turnaround at Penn State from the dark days of not long ago.

"No," Franklin corrects himself, "he's everything you'd want in a son."

Want someone to root for this bowl season? Want to weed through the arguments of who should be in the College Football Playoff—or who should or shouldn't be playing bowl games with so much on the line in the future—and find something meaningful, tangible and inspirational?

Here's Penn State's DaeSean Hamilton, a wideout who earned All-Big Ten honors and will likely make someone's roster in the NFL as a third or fourth receiver and special teams player.

But he was also the child thrust into the caregiver role for his older brother, Darius, who has autism. Who also helped care for his mother while she had breast cancer. Who then never veered from what was important and what had to be done to care for his family.

Before he left for Penn State five years agobefore he eventually graduated and began work on his masters and made his mark in the school's record booksHamilton sat down with his mother to ease the greatest fear of every parent with a child with special needs.

"I told her when you and Dad can no longer take care of Darius, I will," Hamilton said. "There's no way Darius will ever stay in a [managed] home."

Hours later, after the family made the drive from Stafford, Virginia, through the mountains to Happy Valley for Hamilton's first day at Penn State, after they moved his life and belongings from the car to his dorm room, Darius wouldn't let go of his younger brother's arm when it was time to leave.

Five years later, DaeSean will play his last game for Penn State in Saturday's Fiesta Bowl against Washington, his life moving toward another milestone.

"Darius never has to worry about me letting go," DaeSean said last month when recounting his first day on campus. "He's my brother. I love him. I have always believed this, and it's something my parents have said over and over: God will never give you something you can't handle."

No matter how young you are.

DaeSean has been doing this since he was six, since he was all of a year removed from kindergarten. It was then that he realized something wasn't right with his older brother by two years, Darius.

He didn't talk, couldn't help himself and couldn't go through a day without hands-on support from his family. Darius is non-verbal and needs constant support to accomplish basic life skills, including brushing his teeth and hair, washing his hands, taking a shower, applying deodorant, getting dressed and eating.

That support DaeSean gave his brother would be the same skills many parents of children with special needs pay a full-time employee to accomplish.

Credit: Madgeline Hamilton

"It wasn't long after DaeSean started helping that I was trying to get Darius out of the house one day to go somewhere, and I said, 'Come here, Darius, let me tie your shoes,'" Madgeline Hamilton said. "DaeSean ran up to me and screamed, 'No, Mom, let him do it himself. I taught him how to do it.' Sure enough, Darius tied his own shoes."

To this day, when Madgeline or her husband, Johnie, truly need Darius to accomplish a task, they ask DaeSean to make it happen. Earlier this month, when DaeSean was home on winter break, Madgeline asked her son if he could help with Darius.

He's a grown man now, a 24-year-old who weighs 160 pounds and does what he wantsor at least tries to. Just like he had all those years prior, when DaeSean used to have to carry him downstairs to take a shower, or they had to stop DaeSean's Pop Warner games because Darius had run onto the field when he thought he needed to help his brother.

Or the time when DaeSean was 10, and his mother told him she had breast cancer and DaeSean and Darius grew even closer out of necessity. Madgeline was going through treatment, her husband was working and bills had to be paid.

So DaeSean woke every morning, got Darius showered and fed and ready for school, and took him to the bus stop. Madgeline gave DaeSean a key to the back door so he could pick up Darius from school, bring him home and care for him in case she either wasn't there because of a doctor's appointment or was recovering from a chemotherapy treatment.

Day after day, year after year. Through Madgeline's cancer and remission, through Johnie stationed in Japan for a year by himself, through growing as a football player from Pop Warner to high school, DaeSean made it work with Darius.

"At one point we had to tell him, 'DaeSean, you need to make time for yourself,'" Johnie said.

EAST LANSING, MI - NOVEMBER 04: DaeSean Hamilton #5 of the Penn State Nittany Lions races past the tackle of Chris Frey #23 of the Michigan State Spartans during the second half at Spartan Stadium on November 4, 2017 in East Lansing, Michigan. Michigan St
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

So Johnie told DaeSean to write a list of goals every year and keep moving forward on those goals. They changed annually as he got older and began to include being All-Conference and All-Academic, be the best at his position, be a great teammate, earn a college scholarship. But a few were the same every January.

Be the best brother and son I can be.

Help care for Darius.

Make Darius part of my life.

"When I would go places with my friends, I'd bring Darius with me," DaeSean said. "I wanted everyone to know that Darius and I are together. We are one. When I'm here, he's here. They became friends with him."

It's not surprising, then, that DaeSean's insistence to involve Darius in his life paid off with yet another beautiful twist in the lives of the Hamilton brothers: When DaeSean and Darius went to different high schools because of DaeSean's emerging football talent, the friendships Darius made with DaSean's childhood friends Billy Bolinsky and Brad Caudill carried over.

During middle school, eighth-graders were allowed to take one non-academic elective period (such as home economics), but DaeSean chose to use his period to work with Darius' special needs class. So did Billy and Brad.

When Darius moved on to high school, Billy and Brad continued working in Darius' class as their elective period. As he is telling this story, DaeSean stops and shakes his head.

It's almost as if he can't believe it really happened.

"I've never told anyone that story, and as I hear myself say it now, wow, how great is it that they would do that?" DaeSean said.

"We never really thought anything of it," Bolinsky said. "He was our friend, and he was also DaeSean's brother. I've known Darius since the third grade; he has always been special to me. It was a no-brainer."

This is what Bill O'Brien saw when he first began recruiting DaeSean to Penn State in 2012. He had just finished his first season with the Lions, an excruciatingly tough year of finding a way through the horrific Jerry Sandusky scandal and the NCAA ramifications.

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA - SEPTEMBER 30:  Head coach James Franklin of the Penn State Nittany Lions and Trace McSorley #9 congratulate DaeSean Hamilton #5 after a touchdown reception during the third quarter against the Indiana Hoosiers on September 30, 2017 a
Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

The scholarship reductions gave Penn State as close to a death-penalty sentence as a program could get without shutting its doors. O'Brien not only had a significantly reduced number of scholarships to give, he also had a small pool to choose from. What elite high school star wanted to play for Penn State then?

He couldn't miss on recruits for fear of pushing the program further behind.

His second recruiting class was ranked No. 33 in the nation, per 247Sports, and included 5-star quarterback Christian Hackenberg, the player who was supposed to save the program from falling into irrelevance. There was another player in that class, a 3-star wideout from Stafford, who understood the value of selfless work and teammates, and giving and service to others.

"A coach can win a lot of games with guys like DaeSean Hamilton," O'Brien said.

Years ago when DaeSean, Billy and Brad played Pop Warner football, they had a coach who believed in conditioning above all else. If you can run, he stressed, they can't catch you.

"He could throw the ball a country mile," Caudill said. "He'd throw it, we'd all run, and DaeSean would get there first every time. Finally, he says, 'If DaeSean gets this again, we're doing five more. If someone else does, we'll stop.' DaeSean was the fastest player on the team by far. But that next throw, someone else got it. DaeSean clearly let someone else get it. That's who he is."

Yes, that's who he is. The best brother, son and teammate he can be.