“I always wanted to go to UH. It was my dream school,” UH cornerback Isaiah “Zae” Hamilton says as he leans forward, which is his way of telling you what he’s saying is important. “I’m not gonna lie.”
Asked why UH, “Cuz, man, it’s Houston,” he said with a big grin. “I always wanted to play in Houston. I always wanted to represent my city.”
the daily #95 | 11/3/2023 | Archives
It was a long, winding road for the barely recruited player out of Wheatley, scratch that, out of Channelview. Isaiah grew up in HISD but went to live with family in Channelview. Eventually, he decided to play football for head coach Averion Hurts, father of Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts.
Owing to poor grades, he was not heavily recruited and accepted a scholarship at Texas Southern. But while at Channelview, he had an epiphany.
“I had to change my whole mindset,” Hamilton admits in a one-on-one with GoCoogs.com. “I had to take school more seriously. I couldn’t mess up. I was really trying to focus and do better for myself.”
Hamilton started to improve his grades, but during his final semester, COVID-19 happened, and he lost out on the chance to earn an FBS scholarship. He enrolled at Texas Southern in the summer of 2020. The SWAC did not have a Fall 2020 schedule and attempted to play in the spring of 2021. But after two games, the rest of the season fell apart, and the Tigers did not play again.
After an okay season in the fall of 2021, Hamilton emerged in 2022. He finished the year with five interceptions, two returned for touchdowns, ten passes defended, and a forced fumble. In December, he decided to move up a level to show what he could do.
“It wasn’t my plan to leave,” Hamilton emphasizes. “I’m not saying Texas Southern was bad, but I felt like I outgrew that. I wanted to show that I could compete with these guys on a higher level.
“And I feel like I’m still doing that, honestly. I’m far from finished.”
Once he was in the portal, Coach Hurts called to say he’d been in contact with UH defensive coordinator Doug Belk. Hurts said he knows Belk, giving Zae faith that he could trust the UH staff. Three days later, Belk called Hamilton to start a relationship.
“It’s a lot of Houston kids here in the secondary,” Hamilton said. “Some of us came through struggle, grew up playing together.”
Hamilton’s entry into the program was smooth. Coaches worked to explain how things work, and players embraced him, never treating him like an outsider.
Since coming to Houston, Hamilton has worked on taking the game more seriously. I take things more seriously.
“I used to brush things off, and my mindset wasn’t the best,” he admits. “But if you really want to chase after something, you have to lock in.
“I wanted to change my mindset because I want to be successful for my little daughter. She helps me stay focused, too.”
The most significant change for Isaiah has been watching film. Like many players, he did not understand how to watch it correctly when he arrived at the FBS level.
“It’s just a process,” secondary coach David Rowe says. “He’s not the only one. A lot of kids they have to learn how to watch the film.”
Hamilton says he watches film daily, both in the secondary room and on his own. It’s like homework at this point.
“I really watch it every day,” he said. “I don’t want to mess up, and I also want to know what they’re doing before I get to the game.”
I asked Isaiah about the missed tackles that have hurt the team this year. While not questioning coaching decisions, he believes they should tackle more in practice. Getting more reps builds the tackling mindset.
“Some people have a mindset to tackle,” Hamilton stated. “The will to tackle. ‘I’m gonna go make this tackle before someone else gets to the ball.’”
Hamilton admits that he struggles with the game’s speed at times, but he’s getting more comfortable. He has three interceptions and three pass breakups in the first eight games. But when questioned about what his perfect game would be – a shutdown performance or a couple of interceptions, he does not hesitate.
“I’d really rather win than anything. I really like that winning.”