T.J. Hamilton has been around the game of football since the age of nine. Since then, Hamilton has risen from youth football to college football and now, a head coach. With summer workouts set to begin next week, the new man at the helm discussed his path to the present day, what to expect from his leadership and the team’s progress through the spring.
“I thought this spring, we moved a step forward and I believe we’ll take that step forward into the summer,” Hamilton said. “Our biggest focus is going to be how we gel as a team. If we continue to come together like we have been … and we continue to be positive influences for each other, … then 2019 is going to be a good year for us.”
Hamilton served as strength and conditioning coordinator for the 2018-19 academic year. Toward the end of the school year, he won teacher of the year, as selected by fellow faculty at Gordon Central High School.
“When you’re focused on strength and conditioning, you’re just focused on one area,” Hamilton said. “You’re focusing on making sure the kids get the proper training that they need. Going from that to being over an entire program, … all the little things that come with taking over a program, you have to worry about. It’s a big difference.”
Hamilton’s love for football started out at a young age. Raised by a single mother, Hamilton started out playing basketball, watching and emulating stars like Michael Jordan and Allen Iverson.
“I could do basketball without having to be in a structured environment,” Hamilton said. “I used to dribble the ball up and down the street. I taught myself how to play point guard.”
Hamilton said he did not start playing football until around age nine, when his godfather introduced him to football.
“I was playing on his basketball team one year and he was like ‘T.J., why don’t you play football next year?’,” Hamilton said. “He goes, ‘You’re five foot, you might get a little bit taller … why don’t you focus on football? You can get a full scholarship playing football with your height and as good as you’re going to be if you just work at it.’ At 10 years old is when I fell in love with the game.”
Hamilton already had a strong degree of familiarity with the football program before taking over the top spot. He attended Gordon Central High School, graduating in 2006. While there, he played at running back under then-head coach Bill Long.
After high school, Hamilton went on to play college football at the University of Tennessee-Martin.
While playing varsity at Gordon Central, Hamilton said the most important aspect of the game he learned about was the fight.
Hamilton depicts the scene with the setting as Dalton High School in early September 2004. The Gordon Central Warriors were trailing Dalton 24-0 at halftime.
“Coach Long comes in (to the locker room), takes a clipboard … and threw it up against the wall,” Hamilton said. “Coach Long never did anything like that. He was even-keeled, he was very charismatic. That was the first time we ever seen him do something like that. He turns around and looks at every one of us ‘Y’all are better than this.’ and walked out.”
In the second half of that game, Gordon Central racked up 34 unanswered points to complete the incredible comeback.
“Dorian (Porch’s) junior year, playing against Dalton, that was by far the most significant thing,” Hamilton said. “It just epitomized all the struggles and everything that we dealt with.”
Hamilton said he wants to instill the same values in the Warriors that he learned from coaches he worked with in the past.
“Bill Long, my head coach, Coach (Dwight) Sanderson, he was my running backs coach here … the grind, the attitude that they had, they instilled in us,” Hamilton said. “You have to embrace that grind, you have to have a specific attitude, and then once you do that, you develop as a cohesive unit.”
Hamilton said the roster has to come together, with the responsibility on the players to hold themselves accountable.
“We understand we have to come together as a team,” Hamilton said. “They have to get each other here. We as coaches can’t be the ones that are sending messages out, telling each other to get each other here because this isn’t our program. It’s theirs.”
Hamilton said his short-term goal is to create a buzz about Gordon Central football within Gordon County on the lower school levels.
“We’ve been to every single one of our feeder schools,” Hamilton said. “I think being able to do that and showing our faces short-term will get these kids excited about it and we’re generating a buzz.”
Long term, Hamilton said, he would like to see Gordon Central sustain consistent success.
“If we can keep continued success year after year instead of having gaps in (between) there, that’s our long-term goal,” Hamilton said. “That starts with the short-term goal, which is keeping those kids loving Gordon Central and wanting to be in blue and white and wanting to come here and step on this field.”
Hamilton said his mother has been the rock in his life, and she even surprised him at Gordon Central’s spring game last month.
“She didn’t tell me she was coming, so it was great to see her,” Hamilton said. “She lives eight hours away in Arkansas and drove up here for a spring game, just to see it. She’s always been that way.”
When the Warriors take the field for the 2019 season in August, Hamilton said fans can expect to see a team that competes with high tempo and energy.
“What you’re going to see, though, from the stands looking on the field is a team with very high energy, a team that will be coached to the best of our abilities,” Hamilton said. “You’re going to see a team that loves each other. I think that the energy we’re going to play with, the energy I have, the energy our coaching staff has, is going to spill over into the stands and then from the stands into the community.”