If all you knew about Rutgers starting defensive tackle Darius Hamilton was that he weighs a doughnut or two over 260 pounds, you might rightfully wonder whether he's ready for Big Ten trench warfare. This is not a subject unfamiliar to Hamilton.
"Everywhere I go, people say, 'The Big Ten's got big offensive linemen,'" he told ESPN.com. "But the way I look at it, ever since I've been in college, I've never played against a lineman smaller than me. I love a challenge."
Size is a minor issue for Hamilton. He has the pedigree and the track record to suggest that he could immediately become one of the league's top interior lineman.
He played for New Jersey prep powerhouse Don Bosco, which was ranked No. 1 nationally his senior year by several publications. He was ranked No. 69 in the 2012 ESPN 300. Recruiting offers came pouring in from programs such as Florida, Miami and Alabama.
In the end, Hamilton decided to stay close to home and was one of the most-decorated signees in Scarlet Knights history, helping push that class to a Top 25 national ranking.
"I just believed in the system and the players, especially with the group of guys that I came in with," he said. "We just believed we were going to do something special, and I believe we're well on the road to doing that."
After playing in a reserve role each game as a freshman, Hamilton began to fulfill his potential in the second half of last season. In Rutgers' final four games, he registered four sacks and 5.5 of his team-best 11.5 tackles for loss.
"I think everything finally came together as far as playbooks and scheme," he said. "I was able to play fast and not think about anything."
That big finish has carried over into the offseason. Coach Kyle Flood has praised Hamilton as one of the team leaders this spring, and that's necessary given that he's one of only two returning starters on the defensive line.
Hamilton showed that he was ready to become perhaps the face of the team when he issued a challenge to fans over Twitter this spring, telling them to either get on board with the Scarlet Knights' train or get lost.
"I was observing a a lot of people talking, talking, talking, and I wanted to voice my opinion about how I feel about this team and our chemistry," he said. "It was basically, 'If you're on the fence, you should just get off.'"
The public nature of that sentiment was new for the soft-spoken Hamilton, but his teammates weren't surprised by his intensity and passion.
"He's not the biggest three-technique [tackle] in the world, but when you see the man in pads, he's a different monster," said defensive lineman Julian Pinnix-Odrick, who is Hamilton's roommate. "I've never seen him come out and say, 'Aw, I'm not feeling it today.' He's ready to go all the time -- 24/7, he has that competitive edge."
Teammates also praise Hamilton's mastery of technique and work ethic -- "he has natural ability and on top of that, he works his butt off, Pinnix-Odrick said. "That's what makes him a great player."
The game comes instinctually to him in some ways thanks to his lineage. His father, Keith Hamilton, played 12 years in the NFL, all with the New York Giants, and had 63 sacks. Their relationship has had some difficult times, but Darius said his father always helped him improve his game.
"I went back and watched some of dad's tapes, and I saw that we're real similar in way we play the game," he said. "I never really realized it until I sat down and watched film. We both play with a lot of intensity and a lot of passion."
That passion helps make up for a lack of size. Hamilton has put on a few pounds this offseason and hopes to get to 270 by the fall. He and the other Rutgers defensive linemen will still be giving up some bulk to most Big Ten offensive lines. But there's more to the story, he insists.
"People look at us across the board and think we're not much," he said. "But we've got a lot of heart, we play really hard and play really physical. We welcome teams running the ball. When you think about the Big Ten, you think about big offensive lines that like to run the ball. And when you think about Rutgers' defense, you think about stopping the run. So it should be a fun challenge."