When I asked one of his former teammates to describe Brian Hamilton to me, the answer was immediate — he’s a leader. He’s the nicest guy in the world, and he’s still the same guy he’s always been. He’s the older, wiser guy. He’s the one with the old soul. Brian Hamilton, a talented defensive tackle, the product of legendary St. Rita’s High School in Chicago, went on to have a successful collegiate career at Notre Dame and sign as a free agent with the Atlanta Falcons. Brian now lives in Indianapolis with his wife and three children (ages 7, 10 and 12). He enjoys coaching his kid’s soccer and basketball teams and is very active in Lou’s Lads and the Notre Dame Haiti Program.
[Featured image: Head coach Lou Holtz of the University of Notre Dame leads his team onto the field prior to the Fighting Irish 52-7 win over Purdue at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel/Allsport]
Q: St. Rita’s High School seems to produce some of the crown jewels of high school football. What was it like playing high school football in such a competitive and successful league in Chicago? What was it like playing for Coach Quinn?
A: “I didn’t start playing organized tackle football until my freshman year at St. Rita’s High School. I had a tremendous coach in Coach Quinn and he taught me a lot about the game. I started out on the defensive line, switched to tight end my sophomore year and then switched back to defense my junior and senior year. I actually went to St. Rita to play basketball, that was my sport — I joined the football team to stay in shape. Little did I know where football would take me. It was a great decision.”
“Two years ago I was inducted into St. Rita hall of fame. That was a huge honor for me. I still go back to St. Rita quite often for functions and their annual reunion in April. It’s great to reconnect with the guys I played with in high school. When we see each other it’s like not a day has passed. It’s just like old times.”
Q: What made you go to Notre Dame? Being from Chicago, was it always a dream for you?
A: “Coming from a Catholic high school Notre Dame really did appeal to me. I took official visits to USC, Michigan and Tennessee but my family, coaches, and teachers really nudged me in the direction of ND. I really liked the atmosphere at Notre Dame — some of the other campuses were a little bit too big for me. I liked the intimate small campus feel of Notre Dame. I felt it would give me the opportunity to get to know people better as opposed to a large school like Michigan.”
“I met a lot of great guys during my official visit weekend at Notre Dame. There was a great camaraderie between the guys on the current squad and they had a great coach in Lou Holtz. Barry Alvarez was the defensive coach who was recruiting me and I was very much looking forward to playing under him but he ended up taking the job at Wisconsin that year. That was the only downside for me, I would have really liked to have had a chance to play for Coach Alvarez.”
“My host during my official visit was Irv Smith. He was the ultimate Notre Dame salesman. He was responsible for bringing a lot of excellent guys to ND.”
Q: What is your best Notre Dame football memory?
A: “What stands out most in my mind is the first game I played at Notre Dame Stadium. It was a night game against Michigan, the first night game at Notre Dame and there were a lot of stars on both sides of the ball. Running out onto the field with 55,000 people in the stadium was incredible. We won in a close game (28-24) and it is something I will never forget.”
“The match up against Florida State my senior year was incredible as well. The atmosphere surrounding that game was unreal. It was the first time that ESPN had traveled to a college football site (the beginning of ESPN College Game Day). The whole experience was pretty unique.”
“When you look back at that game everyone talked about Florida State’s offense and defense and Notre Dame’s offense, but no one talked one bit about our defense. We proved to be the difference maker in that game.”
“The other moment that stands out in my mind was my touchdown against Purdue my senior year (1993). For some reason, every time we played Purdue it rained. This game was no different. It was pouring down rain and was scoreless into the third quarter. Jeff Burris blitzed the quarterback and when he hit him the ball popped into the air. I caught it and ran 40 yards for the touchdown and that was the only touchdown of my career. The funny thing was that 20 members of my family had come down from Chicago to watch me play that day. Because of the miserable weather conditions about half of them had left the game to head out to the car to warm up. When they got to the car and turned the radio on, I scored the touchdown! Did I mention it was my only touchdown? We ended up winning the game by a score of 17-0.”
Q: What was your biggest challenge as a Notre Dame student-athlete?
A: “Initially managing my time was a big challenge. It is difficult just to be a student at Notre Dame, let alone a student and an athlete. You have a different set of issues as a student-athlete as far as time management goes. Making sure I got to class, to practice, and got studying done in the evening was a big adjustment for me from high school. We had some pretty long days during football season. But I was able to manage it and I was able to do well in school. That is why I chose Notre Dame. I wanted a challenge.”
“My other big challenge freshman year was trying to get some playing time. When I came to Notre Dame there were some incredibly talented upperclassmen, such as Chris Zorich and Boo Williams. We had some definite stars at that time, so I knew it would be an uphill battle to get any playing time my freshman year. But again, anything that is good is worth fighting for.”
Q: How do you remember your NFL draft?
A: “I signed with the Atlanta Falcons and went to training camp. When you get to that next level, as far as talent goes, it’s a whole new level. The jump from high school to college is big, but the jump from college to the pros is even bigger. It was a tough time for me. I thought I did well in camp and proved myself but the Falcons ended up re-signing one of their veterans which ended up eliminating my spot. It was a good experience for me, though, and I’m okay with how things turned out. It was times like this that I went to Notre Dame and got my degree. I knew that the pros were a possibility but at the same time knew it was not a guarantee. Staying at Notre Dame for my fifth year allowed me to walk out of there with two degrees. I graduated with one degree in business management and one degree in sociology. It was my priority to make the most of my time at Notre Dame.”
Q: Where did life take you after football?
A: “My wife, whom I met at Notre Dame, went to graduate school in Arizona after graduation. When I got released from the Atlanta Falcons I moved out to Arizona with her and got a job with a company called Unisys. I began working on a child welfare project where we went in and converted paper cases into electronic files. I managed the effort at the different offices and I did that for six months. Every week I was at a different office working with the contractors that I hired to do the work. I learned a great deal about IT and the system and that’s how I got more into the technical side of the business, and from there into development.”
“I worked out there for a year and a half and then ended up being transferred to work on a project here in Indianapolis. I currently reside in Fishers, IN. I worked for Unisys for quite a while in their IT development department.”
“Now I work for Molina Healthcare, which is based out of Long Beach, California. We implement systems for government state contracts that track Medicaid member and provider information. I manage a team of developers across multiple states on the projects. We have an office in Glen Allen, VA but the majority of my team works remotely anywhere from Florida to Idaho. Technology has definitely helped out in that respect. As long as I’m on my computer, I can do work from any location.”
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your involvement in Lou’s Lads as well as the Notre Dame Haiti Program?
A: “I met Father Streit at a Universal Notre Dame Night function here in Indianapolis. He was our guest speaker and talked to the group about the work that Notre Dame is doing in Haiti. We ended up being seated at the same table, as we knew some people in common, and we both thought it would be a great idea to get the Lou’s Lads Foundation involved in the Notre Dame Haiti program. We really felt that Lou’s Lads would be able to bring some good awareness to the program.”
“I brought it up to Derek Mayes and Brian Baker (Lou’s Lads treasurer) and they both seemed very interested. We decided that a few of us should go to Haiti to check out the program first hand. So myself, Jeff Burris, Randy Kinder and Reggie Fleurima (whose parents are actually Haitian) made the trip to see the amazing work that is being done in Haiti. What we saw just blew us away. To see what the program is doing and how they were making a difference was incredible. They are definitely doing some great work and as Lou’s Lads continues to grow and build our fund we hope to get more involved with the Notre Dame Haiti Program in the future.”
“We came back and talked to Lou about it. We wanted to get him to go down there as well but we have not been able to schedule that just yet. He has such intense demands on his time. It was a great experience. We were only down there for a few nights but we got to see quite a bit. We saw a surgery, which was extremely eye-opening. Seeing the “hospital” that they use and the environment they have to work in, it really makes you realize how fortunate we are in the United States. The doctors who work with the program come down from the mainland and volunteer their time. They are doing some tremendous work in Haiti. It was amazing to be able to sit in and watch a surgery.”
“For now Lou’s Lads is trying to raise money and awareness for the program in Haiti and in the future we hope to be able to help more charities.”
Q: What is your favorite Lou Holtz memory?
A: “Coach Holtz was definitely a character. I was glad we (the defense) didn’t see him as much at practice as the offense did. If we saw him at practice, that meant we had done something wrong and were in trouble. We wanted to see him as little as possible!”
“The defensive coordinators who mostly worked with us were Rick Minter and Bob Davie. We had the most success under Coach Minter but we had so much talent on that squad his job was relatively easy. I wish they would have been a little less restrictive with us and just let the guys go a little bit, and have the ability to do some different things. I really liked playing under coach Mike Trgovac. He was my favorite defensive line coach. He’s in Green Bay now.”
“My favorite memory of coach Holtz came after my football career at ND was over. Coach and I talked at an event in South Bend during the Blue and Gold game weekend. He had a gathering for all of his former players that were in town. He took time out to make sure he spoke to each and every guy and their families. At that time, I was President of the Notre Dame Club of Indianapolis. I asked him if he would come and speak at the Universal Notre Dame night for our club. Coach said he would be more than happy to as long as he could fit it into his schedule in the spring. We talked a little while later and he was able to attend the event. Because of his presence we quickly sold the place out. It was just like old times. He spoke for over an hour even though it felt like only 15 minutes had passed. I don’t think many coaches would do that for a former player. When he was recruiting his players I guess he truly meant if you give me 4 years I’ll give you 40.”
Q: What advice would you give to current student-athletes?
A: “My biggest take away from my time at Notre Dame is the friends that I made who I still stay in touch with to this day. Some of my best friends are from Notre Dame. Even though we don’t live in the same city, or even state, I still talk to a lot of the guys on a regular basis.”
“My advice to current athletes would be to make sure that they are preparing themselves during their time in college for life after college. The preparation should not start your senior year. That is one of the biggest mistakes that people make when they are in college. You need to start preparing yourself during your freshman year for what lies ahead. Take advantage of the programs that Notre Dame, or whatever school you attend, has to offer. A lot of guys feel that they will for sure have the opportunity to play in the NFL but we know that those opportunities are few and far between. Make sure that you keep in touch with the people you went to school with. Being in my position I feel like I’m always looking for good people to hire and the best people usually come from referrals from people I already know. The best way to find an opportunity is through the people you know.”
I’d like to give a big thank you to Brian for stopping by the blog. It was an absolute pleasure to walk through his journey with him. Stay tuned for many more great stories in the “Where are they now?” series!