IOWA CITY — Ray Hamilton was the four-star, elite football prospect at Strongsville (Ohio) High School with scholarship offers ranging from Notre Dame and Michigan to Oregon and Florida State.
Aaron White was the Strongsville sidekick, a three-star basketball recruit with offers from struggling high-major programs and a few regional mid-majors.
Yet they chose the same school in a parallel process. Hamilton saw Iowa send four tight ends to the NFL from 2003 through 2009. White viewed the Big Ten Hawkeyes as his best option. But neither athlete, best friends since elementary school, made it a priority to join the school together. In fact, it happened by chance.
“It was weird,” Hamilton said. “I was committed first, and he was the first person I told. I mentioned it to him one day when we were on my couch, that I had made my mind up. So he was actually the first person and vice versa. When he made his decision, I was the first person he told.
“Throughout the whole process, when I was going through it, I just concentrated on myself, my parents and use their advice to try to help me out and sort through some of the offers. Really digest it and understand it. I was more about me. When it came time for Aaron when I was already committed, I told him, ‘I’d love to have you at Iowa but you’ve got to do what’s best for you. I don’t know what that is.’ He weighed his options and he made his decision with his parents, and it’s worked out for him.”
White has made the most of his Iowa opportunity. A 6-foot-8 junior forward, he led the Hawkeyes in rebounding, has scored 877 points in two seasons and was named a third-team all-Big Ten selection last year. This summer, he was selected to represent the United States in the World University Games.
“The first time I heard it I started screaming and stuff,” Hamilton said. “That’s something that not a lot of people can say that they’ve done, what he did. For him to go and compete with the guys he competed with Team USA, McDermott, Adreian Payne of Michigan State. For him to be mentioned with those guys and to hold his own, actually succeed, it’s pretty unbelievable.”
White feels the same about Hamilton. They met in kindergarten and didn’t like each other until the second or third grade when, White said, “We kind of realized that if we joined forces, we could cause some damage.” In fifth or sixth grade, the two played basketball together and were scolded by a youth coach because he thought the duo were betting on who could score the most points.
They became inseparable later on because of their sports success. In a high school, they upset top-ranked Garfield Heights in overtime with White scoring 36 points and Hamilton grabbing 18 rebounds. In basketball, Hamilton held down the post, while White was the primary scorer.
Hamilton hasn’t yet experienced similar success at Iowa. He’s played in 22 games and didn’t red-shirt as a freshman, but he has notched just three catches and a few inglorious moments on special teams. Still, White is proud of his best friend and is excited for when he becomes a factor.
“He’s always been like, the man,” White said. “Growing up he was always the best baseball player, he’s always been the best basketball player, the best football player. People here obviously wouldn’t know that because he hasn’t had his time yet. It’s kind of been interesting for me how he’s taken it all. I think he’s handled it all really well. He’s kind of waiting his turn. Once he gets his turn, I think he’s really going to take advantage of it.
“I’m obviously rooting for the school, but I’m there for him. That’s my boy.”
Hamilton (6-5, 252) has taken strides this year and gained 17 pounds since his freshman season. He’s the primary No. 2 tight end behind C.J. Fiedorowicz, but Iowa traditionally uses a two-tight end set at least 35 percent of the time. That will get him plenty of offensive snaps.
“He’s matured,” said Iowa assistant coach Eric Johnson, who formerly handled tight ends. “He as one of those guys that in an ideal world you would have red-shirted if possible. He needed that year to red-shirt. We couldn’t afford to red-shirt him at that time I think he’s growing physically in his body. He’s maturing mentally. He’s understanding the system more. You can see that in his confidence on the field.”
White and Hamilton roomed together their first summer in Iowa City and frequently stay in contact despite their busy schedules. At football games, White sits with Hamilton’s parents. After basketball games, Hamilton frequently greets White near the court at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. They both tease one another regardless the performance.
“I’ll have a game where I played well, and he’ll say I could have had 10 extra points and four more rebounds,” White said. “That’s just how he is. And if he plays well in a football game, I’ll say you didn’t score a touchdown. That’s how we are, very competitive.”
“It’s the same thing both ways,” Hamilton said. “He’s my biggest fan, and I’m his biggest fan when it comes to going to the other one’s game. You’ll see me at his game getting up when he’s going up for big dunk and he comes out in the starting lineup. If I have a big block or a big catch, he’ll be up in the stands for me.
“He couldn’t have been a better friend, and we’ve stayed close ever since we came here.”
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