Former Western football player Casey Hamlett moves on
April 20, 2009
EVERETT, Wash. -
By Larry Henry, Special to The Everett Herald
PULLMAN -- Casey Hamlett wasn't about to give up football.
He didn't have a team to play for, but he still had the desire to play.
His first thought when Western Washington University dropped its program early this year? It wasn't a question of whether he would play football again. That, in his mind, was a given. It was where he would play.
"A lot of people who haven't played the game don't understand what it means to you," Hamlett said. "I had worked too hard to give it up."
His coaches felt the same way. "They told me, 'You need to keep playing.'"
But where? He'd always wanted to play NCAA Division I football, but that wasn't an option coming out of Edmonds-Woodway High School, so he accepted a scholarship to play for the Division II Vikings.
He played two years, getting "kicked around" his freshman year before starting on the defensive line and earning Great Northwest Athletic Conference second-team honors last fall. Then, because of a budget crisis, the program was discontinued in early January.
Now what? One of his coaches contacted a friend on the Washington State staff and told him about Hamlett. The Cougars needed help on the defensive line and invited him to walk on.
He didn't hesitate. On Thursday, he was in class at Western. The next Tuesday, he was in class at Washington State.
"Not moping," he said. "No 'pity me.'"
By leaving Western -- where he had a scholarship that was guaranteed even though there was no more football -- he would have to pay for his schooling at WSU, unless he could earn a scholarship, which is possible.
"I thought about my mom, always in my ear about 'What if this doesn't work out?'" Hamlett said recently during a break from spring practice. "I said, 'If I don't make it, it's on me.' I could live with that. I'm confident that I'm going to work hard and prove that I belong here."
As you might have guessed, Casey Hamlett takes football seriously. It was a prime motivating factor for him going to college.
His former coach at Western, Robin Ross, can attest to Hamlett's commitment to the game. "He will give you everything he's got," Ross said. "He's got great determination."
Hamlett wants to excel not only in games, but in practices. Ross was heading for the locker room after practice one day when he saw Hamlett doing sprints up and down the field. Ross asked one of his assistant coaches what that was all about. "He's (angry) with himself because he had a bad practice," the aide said.
Hamlett had been looking forward to the upcoming football season at Western. "With the people we had coming back, we felt we could compete for a (GNAC) championship," he said. "Everyone was excited and ready to go."
Then came the ultimate letdown.
He got to WSU a week after the second semester commenced and was able to take part in the Cougars' winter conditioning program. He found it a "lot more structured and more intense" than what he was used to, but added that there have been no "setbacks so far.
"So it may turn out to be a good thing."
The coaches are getting the same feeling. They like what they have seen of the 6-foot-2, 239-pound Hamlett.
"He's been going with the ones and twos (first and second-team units)," co-defensive coordinator Jody Sears said, "and has been doing a really, really good job."
Defensive line coach Malik Roberson echoed Sears' assessment. "He's got some toughness and he's extremely intelligent," Roberson said of the sophomore defensive end, who was on the GNAC All-Academic team last fall. "He's a little undersized, but those other two qualities can make up for that."
While acknowledging that the Cougar players are "a little faster, a little bigger and a little quicker" than the ones in the GNAC, Hamlett said he hasn't felt overwhelmed.
Part of that is due to the work he got in the winter program. "I feel more explosive, more powerful, more comfortable," he said. "My maxes (in lifting) have all gone up."
Hamlett said he believes the experience he got at Western also benefitted him. "I never really thought about coming here and sitting," he said. "I wanted to get on the field and have an impact."
Now he wants to prove to the Cougar coaches that he deserves to be on the field on Saturday afternoons this fall.
"Confidence is the key," he said. "Not being afraid of the Pac-10 and the bright lights. It's still football."
A game he refused to give up.
Life after Vikings football
Of the 11 players from Snohomish County who played on the Western football team some have found themselves on other football teams while others are moving on to other ventures
By Larry Henry, Special to The Everett Herald
When Western Washington University defeated Colorado School of Mines 25-10 in the Dixie Rotary Bowl in December, many of the Viking underclassmen were participating in the last football game of their lives, not that they were aware of it.
It was one month later that Western decided to drop its football program because of financial problems.
Among the players left without a team were 11 young men from Snohomish County. "We had no prior warning," said Casey Hamlett, a sophomore from Edmonds. "We were shocked."
Now they had a major decision -- to stay put or to transfer to a school where they could continue to play football.
As of the second week of April, six were transferring, four were staying and one was still waiting for a reply from another college. Of those who were leaving, five will be playing football this fall.
Kelley Neubauer, a redshirt-freshman defensive end, transferred to the University of Washington where he has resumed throwing the discus after a two-year layoff. As a senior at Shorewood High School, he placed sixth at state but hadn't picked up a discus since.
Of the other five transfers, two will play football for the University of British Columbia in Vancouver this fall: freshman lineman Kelly Kurisu of Lake Stevens and redshirt freshman linebacker Hunter Spencer of Mill Creek.
"I didn't even know they had a football team until Kelly went up there," said Spencer, who attended Jackson High School.
It'll be a different kind of football -- three downs in a series "and a lot of people moving around," he said.
Kurisu was attracted by UBC's engineering school and has a scholarship that will pay his tuition, $25,000 a year for an international student.
One Viking will play for arch-rival Central Washington this year. Freshman defensive back Dustin Adams, who appeared in nine games last fall, already has transferred and is taking part in spring practice.
"Oregon wanted film and I sent it to them," the Lake Stevens High graduate said, "but by the time they called back, I'd already signed with Central."
Randall Eldridge of Lynnwood, Western's top rusher last fall, is leaning toward Missouri Valley College in Marshall, Mo., an NAIA school with a rich football tradition, including one national title and two runner-up finishes.
Hamlett, a sophomore defensive lineman from Edmonds, got an invitation to walk on at Washington State and is receiving good reviews from coaches in spring practice.
One Viking player will stay at Western and get paid to play football. David Sinex, a redshirt freshman lineman from Archbishop Murphy, will don a uniform for the semi-pro Bellingham Blitz starting in May. "They'll pay us," he said, "but we don't know how much."
Ace Younggren, a junior place-kicker from Snohomish, has talked with coaches at the University of Hawaii and sent them tapes. "If nothing happens, I may try to play golf up here (at Western)," he said.
A fellow Snohomishite, sophomore tight end Nate Van Duine, didn't contact anyone, primarily because he can graduate next spring.
Finding a place on the new gridiron
When Western 's football program was abruptly cut, two players found a home at WSU.
Kevin Dudley, The Daily Evergreen
On January 8, Western Washington University announced it was dropping its football program to protect its 15 other sports from budget cuts.
The school allowed its football players to remain on scholarship if they stayed at Western. Players who transferred were eligible to play at their new school immediately.
The opportunity to play right away enticed players to go play at other schools. Two of those former Western football players chose WSU.
Casey Hamlett, a 6-foot-2, 239-pound defensive end and Michael Spears, a 6-foot-1, 256-pound center each jumped at the opportunity to play at WSU. But it wasn't before taking the news of a canceled football program hard.
"It was pretty devastating," Hamlett said. "They told us in a team meeting so all the guys were there, and it was pretty shocking." Hamlett said the players received no prior warning and only heard rumors about an hour before the meeting.
Spears said he got a text message from his coach that informed him of an emergency team meeting, which immediately sent up red flags.
"It kind of took a while to set in, really," he said. "It's not something I'd want to go through twice." The Vikings - members of the Great Northwest Athletic Conference - finished 6-5 last season, including a 25-10 victory over the Colorado School of Mines in the Dixie Rotary Bowl.
Hamlett, who started all 11 games last season for the Vikings, said the successful season didn't lead anybody to believe the sport would be dropped.
Both Hamlett and Spears said they had to decide between multiple schools after deciding to leave Western.
"I got calls from a lot of coaches," Hamlett said. "Then I got a call from (defensive line coach Malik Roberson) and it just ended up working out to come over here to walk on. It's a good opportunity that I decided to take." For Spears, a connection to WSU graduate assistant Josh Tschirgi helped land him at WSU.
"I wanted to get to the Division I level, but I figured that was a lofty goal," Spears said. "(Tschirgi) actually coached back at my high school, and I had gone ahead and got his number. I called here and asked to see if maybe they'd be interested." After talking with Tschirgi and offensive line coach Harold Etheridge, Spears decided to come to WSU.
Hamlett and Spears are participating in their first spring practices at WSU, and Head Coach Paul Wulff is pleased with what he sees so far.
"They've done a nice job," he said. "I think, generally, getting in the weight room was a big thing for them ... both those guys have done a great job. They're good, disciplined kids that work hard, and they're doing a really good job." Spears noted the speed of the game at the Pac-10 level, but said it won't hinder him if he does his job correctly.
"People are stronger and a little faster," he said. "It's still football though. As long as you're disciplined and take the right steps, you should be fine." Hamlett, like Spears, has no fear when it comes to competing against players with Pac-10 experience.
"The whole program is a little more intense," he said. "There's more structure and everyone's a better athlete across the board. But I don't feel like I'm inferior."
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