After completing his standout career at High School, Tyler Hamilton had opportunities that few athletes get: scholarship offers to play college football.
Hamilton, however, wasn't just content to play college football. His dream had always been to play in the Big Ten, so he passed on those scholarship opportunities in favor of status as a preferred walk-on at Michigan State with no guarantee that he'd make the roster last season.
"It was a tough decision," he said. "I had a couple scholarship offers to Division II schools and some people thought I should just take one of those. It was just always my dream to play Big Ten football. I stuck with it and luckily I got a preferred walk-on spot here at State. My mom and dad were both really supportive of me and just kept encouraging me to do what I wanted to do."
Hamilton made the most of his opportunity, making the team and red-shirting his freshman season. He got to practice with the team, adjust to the college game and be a part of one of the best seasons in the history of Michigan State football. The team won a school-record 11 games and a share of the Big Ten championship, the school's first in 20 years.
"Everything was so upbeat, everyone was happy and it was just such a good year for MSU," Hamilton said. "I don't think anyone knew how to react (to the success), other than just being excited and wanting to work even harder."
Hamilton was an all-conference selection as a junior and senior at Fenton playing quarterback. But during those years playing offense, Hamilton stood out for playing the position with the punishing mentality of a defensive player. There was a reason for that: Hamilton was a defensive player by trade who only moved to offense late in his high school career. At Michigan State, he's back on defense, playing linebacker.
"I played defense my entire time at Fenton until my junior year, when I got switched to quarterback," he said. "I played a little bit of tight end my sophomore year but not a ton. Offense was kind of new to me."
Hamilton is one of only a handful of Metro League football players -- including former Lapeer East standout and No. 1 pick in the 2008 NFL Draft Jake Long and Linden graduate and former Michigan Wolverine Tim North -- who have gone on to play Big Ten football. The biggest adjustment is the speed and intensity.
"The speed of the game is just ... I don't even know how to describe it," Hamilton said. "It's so much faster. One of my older teammates said just the practices here at MSU are even more fast and intense than a game would be in high school, and that kind of put it in perspective."
After adjusting to those elements last season, Hamilton is hoping to simply earn a chance to contribute in any way he can this season.
"I want to get on special teams as much as I can and try and win a spot there," he said. "It's a process, you have to wait your turn and earn your spot. Special teams is what I'm shooting for and just trying to get recognized as a hard worker and someone who just wants to be there."
Michigan State returns several key players from last season's Big Ten title team and, with question marks at other programs, particularly with perennial Big Ten power Ohio State, the Spartans could be in a position to contend once again.
"We just need to do everything in our power, work hard in the offseason, take care of our business and if everyone just stays on track, I would imagine that we will definitely put ourselves in a position to compete for another Big Ten championship," Hamilton said.