After the Ravens concluded practice Monday, a group of kids called for rookie safety Kyle Hamilton, asking him to sign their posters.
“I have to do some media stuff first,” Hamilton, a first-round draft pick in April, told them.
Wide receiver James Proche II, however, stepped in and said, “You have 30 seconds.” So, Hamilton walked over and made those kids’ days.
For the former Notre Dame standout, those are the moments he treasures. He knows somewhere in the bleachers at the team’s facility in Owings Mills could be the next Kyle Hamilton, and he would feel bad if he walked away.
Since Hamilton arrived in Baltimore, he has kept a level-headed, self-effacing mindset that has helped him deal with the pressure that comes with being one of the top players in his draft class while also facing criticism on social media.
Hamilton recently sat down with The Baltimore Sun to talk about handling the spotlight, adjusting to a new defense, having a viral moment during last month’s stadium practice, his favorite rapper and playing golf.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
I know you are a big Drake fan, so what did you think of his last album, “Honestly, Nevermind?”
I thought it was good. I don’t think it was his best album, but it wasn’t a bad album. It was a vibe. It was an acquired taste, I would say. He kind of went outside the box, but I appreciated it.
Do you think the album received too much hate?
At that point, it’s like [NBA star] LeBron [James]. If you are successful so often, people [will] find a reason to hate you.
If you had to pick your favorite Drake song, what would it be?
I got like three. I’m going to go with “Tuscan Leather,” “Marvins Room” and “Pipe Down.”
I’ve heard the rookies have to sing in front of everybody. Have you sung already?
I have not, but I already know which song I’m going to sing.
Do you want to share it or keep it a secret?
Umm, I will keep it a secret.
Are you looking forward to that?
Yeah, because I think it’s something everybody has to go through, and I’m excited to be the next one.
You went viral on social media during open stadium practice after you got beat by receiver Bailey Gaither during one-on-ones. How did you react to that?
I mean, it’s funny. I woke up the next morning, and my family was like, “Yo, are you trash at football?” And I was like, “I don’t think so.” And they were like, “Check Twitter.” I checked Twitter, and it was blowing up. But it was kind of funny how you can become such a big deal for a rep at practice. At this point, people are yearning for moments to talk about. So it’s funny to be one of the things to be laughed at.
You mentioned how people are looking for something to talk about, whether good or bad. With that being the reality of Twitter and social media, how do you handle that?
I never try to get too high or get too low. Even the Ravens and the NFL [posted] stuff about me recovering a fumble. It was like “I just recovered a fumble.” It wasn’t that big a deal in my eyes. But that’s something they push. I understand at this level, you have to have your own humility. Everybody is going say you’re the best [or] the worst. So you [need] your own self-talk to keep you up. But then also keep you humble when you’re doing well.
We’ve seen players go back and forth with fans. Are you that type of person?
Nah, it’s just social media. I don’t respond to fans for real. I mean, if I was a fan, my main goal would be to get a response out of this person. So I’m not going to try to give them satisfaction unless it’s something genuine that they’re asking. But yeah, I just tried to keep to myself.
During rookie minicamp, you mentioned how you didn’t play a lot of Cover 3. How have you adjusted to the new things you have learned under defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald?
I’m getting more comfortable every day. I’m louder, more communicative, talking a lot more, understanding the defense [and] why we are doing it. I still mess up, obviously, but I try to make a good mistake every day. And when I do, I try to focus on what I’m doing wrong and fix it. We have a game in less than a month, so I’m ready for it.
How have veterans like Marcus Williams, Chuck Clark, Tony Jefferson and even Marlon Humphrey helped you adjust?
They helped me in the film [room] and all that stuff. But the most they’ve helped me is being a friend. It can be a very stressful time for every rookie. There’s a bunch of eyes on me, but I try not to feed into that. The guys are normal. And it almost feels like college when we are sitting down [and] eating. I need that on a day-to-day basis to keep [my] head on straight. So I appreciate them for that.
It was a life-changing moment going from a student-athlete at Notre Dame to the NFL. How have you handled that transition?
I don’t think it has set in yet. I feel like when we run out of that tunnel at [M&T Bank Stadium] for the first time, and even in New York, it’s going to hit me. But I mean, I’m just blessed to be here, honestly. Training camp may seem like a struggle on a day-to-day basis, but it’s a blessing to be here every day. People are really struggling with other things. We’re all blessed and fortunate to be in the position we’re in.
Throughout camp, you have matched up against rookie tight end Isaiah Likely in one-on-ones. What have those battles been like?
It’s been back and forth. We trade off pretty much, but it’s awesome. He’s a great tight end. He is different from Mark [Andrews]. But I can tell he’s picking up some of Mark’s tendencies. He’s athletic, has great hands and is deceptive in his route running. He’s a tough cover. I think I’m getting great reps against him. Even in my losses, I’m learning something. I’m sure he would say the same thing. It’s a good competition.
How would you describe yourself as a player to people who are not familiar with your game?
I would say I try to be like a security blanket. I try to be in the right place at the right time. I make plays when they are there [and] I try not to force a lot of things. But again, be aggressive, go make plays and let them develop, and try to be a smart player.
Offensive tackle Daniel Faalele mentioned how the Maryland heat was one of the things he didn’t expect heading into training camp. What are some things that have caught you by surprise?
I’m from Atlanta, so the heat is what it is. One thing that surprised me is how many fans are at each practice. It’s kind of weird. I’ve never had fans at practice in my life. I’ve had media at practice but never fans. It’s cool, though. It breaks down that celebrity-fan wall, and you get to talk to people and sign a bunch of stuff. I try to sign as many things as possible because I was that kid at some point. It would be kind of sad if Kyle Hamilton walked away from me. But it’s been fun.
Is there a particular quarterback or player, in general, you’re looking forward to playing against this year?
I would say not one in particular. I want to do well against every one of them. But I’m 21 years old, and I don’t turn 22 until next year. So I’ve grown up watching all these guys. I know there’s going to be a moment in a lot of games where I get the defensive call and look across the line of scrimmage, and there’s somebody I’ve been watching since I was 10 years old. Like they say, “Your idols become your rivals,” but I think it will be pretty cool.
How crazy is it that you are going to face Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, and he played his first game before you were born?
Is that true?
Yeah, his first game was in 2000.
Oh yeah, I was not born. That’s crazy. He’s been playing NFL football longer than I have been alive. It shows the amount of work I’ve put in to be on the same platform as Tom. To play against the GOAT is something that not a lot of people can say they’ve done, so I’m excited about that. But still, I think there’s a good amount of games to go before we get there.
Your brother and dad played basketball. What made you pursue a football career?
I’ve always been, and they’re not going to like that I said this, but more physically dominant than them. They are basketball players and finesse players, and I would foul out of games. But I’ve always flown around the football field since I was younger, and basketball became such a business for me so early that playing football was my release. I had the opportunity to play both in college, but I realized I love football more. And I kind of burned myself out with basketball and decided that football is what I wanted to do. Now, I’m here, so I think I made the right choice.
Do you still plan to continue your podcast [Inside the Garage]?
Yes, that is the plan right now. We’re trying to figure out some business things currently.
I also saw that you are a golfer. Have you been able to hit any courses since you’ve been in Maryland?
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I’ve not. I’ve had some off days where I thought about it, but then my body said no. [Cornerback] Kyle Fuller is a really good golfer as well. I need to get out there with him. But that’s my plan this season. Every off day, play 18 holes and reset because golf is something where if you are not focused on golf, you’re not going to [do well]. It forces you to get your mind off whatever stresses you and enjoy nature.
Have you paid for any dinners yet?
No, I have not had to pay for any dinners. I’ve had to pay for some things but not dinners. I think we do that midseason.