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March 29, 2010
For Hamm and the Stags, it's all in the family
By Sam Spiegelman
Hammy, Hamm sandwich, Hamm-bone. The nicknames never get old. In fact, Jesstin Hamm, a wide receiver for DeMatha, welcomes the quirky monikers his teammates bestow upon him. If that's what it takes to build a family, then so be it.
"It's not annoying or anything," said Hamm, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound rising senior. "Immediately when they say it, it's not like I look around for five seconds. The tight ends might call me Hamster, but the running backs might call me Hammy. Everyone does it. We all laugh at it."
Laughter is certainly one way families bond. And at DeMatha, it's all about family. Under legendary coach Bill McGregor, the Stags have fostered a program that not only excels on the field (they've won six of the last seven Washington Catholic Athletic Conference championships), but is also predicated on community.
"Everybody is just a big family," said Hamm, who raises his voice for emphasis. "We don't play as individuals. We look out for each other."
The unity. The hard work. The camaraderie. It's all there. When an individual makes an important tackle or scores a touchdown, they celebrate together. If a linebacker misses a tackle, no one gets down and no one points fingers.
"At DeMatha, we don't play for the name on the back of our jerseys," said McGregor, who has repeated the phrase so many times he practically invented the cliché. "It's the name on the front that counts."
On gameday, Hamm and his teammates share a prayer session, asking that everyone performs well and stays healthy. He said in those moments, when everyone bows their head and holds hands, all egos subside.
"That's why I think we're so good on the field," Hamm said. "All we care about is helping each other."
Relationships are important in any family. The Stags players are constantly hanging out; Hamm counts many of his teammates among his best friends. But the players also feel close to their coach.
McGregor is widely recognized as one of the best high school coaches in the nation. He boasts a 270-37-3 record over the last 28 years, and that didn't happen by accident. He's a tremendous teacher and a great recruiter, for sure, but sometimes his rapport with the players goes unnoticed.
'I try to promote family, togetherness and let everyone who comes to DeMatha experience this," McGregor said. "That's what makes this program special."
All families have leaders, too. At DeMatha, McGregor is the visible leader, but he - and the school itself - puts a premium on developing young leaders. Hamm, for his part, considers himself a vocal leader. He prides himself on being the player that will be loud and intense when the Stags are behind in a game. In the middle of last season, when DeMatha took on rival Good Counsel, the Stags trailed late. Hamm was one on the sidelines, pumping his teammates up and offering encouragement.
"We might be down a point, but I'm the one who's loud and outspoken," Hamm said. "They know who's talking when I open my mouth."
McGregor considers Hamm a great leader for another reason. He knows that Hamm is the kind of player who will always be on time and set a good example, both in and out of the classroom. And when it comes time to practice, he knows Hamm will give it his all.
"It's all the little things that add up to him being a good player and a good leader," McGregor said. "He's a hard-working young man, he's coachable, he's tough and he does what the coaches want him to do. That's the reason I think he's a no-brainer for colleges to take because of those intangibles."
Rest assured, McGregor will do his part to make sure colleges see Hamm as a "no-brainer." Dealing with college recruiting and finding schools for players is a game all high school coaches must play, and McGregor navigates it with the best of them. He helps around a dozen kids every year earn athletic scholarships.
"He's helped me a lot because he has a lot of experience and he has a lot of connections," Hamm said. "We really trust in his wisdom and that he's telling us the right things. "
Hamm does not have any scholarship offers, which can be frustrating at times. But McGregor told him to be patient. He told him to take his time looking at colleges and discuss options with his family.
"It's a process for everyone," McGregor said. "I try to make sure to tell them to pick a place that's a fit academically, a fit socially, a fit football-wise, distance-wise and coaching-wise."
In other words, pick a place that's an extension of the DeMatha family. Indeed, Hamm said one of the main criteria he'll use in picking a school is the "family atmosphere."
First, however, he'll need to get some scholarships. Hamm is currently on the radar of schools from the ACC and Big 10. In order to land that coveted offer, he knows he'll have to put up the individual numbers, whether it's running a fast 40 time or performing on the field. Intangibles like humility and hard work are nice, but without talent the offers won't come.
"I have to show schools that I can play the game of football, and show them that I'm committed and can play anywhere," said Hamm, who didn't catch a pass last year playing behind three senior starters. "I have talent, intensity, and leadership and I work hard. Football-wise, I can block, catch, run, do it all.
"My favorite player of all time is Jerry Rice and I try to mold my game after his."
Hamm probably isn't on Jerry Rice's level, but he is bound to be an elite high school receiver, despite the lack of minutes last year. According to McGregor, Hamm has all the qualities of a great receiver: size, range, hands, speed and even toughness. But he said Hamm's work ethic stands out the most.
"He wants to be good, he pushes himself to be good and does all the little things necessary to be good," McGregor said. "It's not natural [how much work he does]."
Simply put, Hamm is relentless. Besides working out in the weight room three times a week, he does speed and conditioning training outside of school.
"A lot of people don't work hard to get where they are, and I feel the workouts I do in the offseason set me apart from some people," Hamm said.
Although Hamm already has all the qualities to be part of the DeMatha Stag family - hard work, leadership, humility, camaraderie -- McGregor warns against complacency. He wants him to continue to practice the DeMatha way even after he leaves school and heads to college.
"Once you're done improving, you're not going to be a good football player anymore," McGregor said. "if you slip someone's going to catch up to you. You can't be the one who's slipping."
Hamm can't possibly slip with the support surrounding him. From his mother and father to his teammates to his coach, Hamm knows whom he can turn to for direction.
"Family is very important," Hamm said. "We look out for each other. We show the love."
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