Jimmy Hamel: A Dozen Reasons to Respect Hard Work
Jimmy Hamel walked on to the University at Buffalo campus with his father and older brother in tow. A Massachusetts state champion in 2006, Hamel was asked to fill the shoes of outgoing All-American Kyle Cerminara. While at the time it might have seemed to be a daunting task, Hamel now will leave the program sitting side-by-side with Cerminara in the Buffalo record book and his consistent blue-collar work ethic has helped lead the team as much as any takedown or pin.
With three wins last Dec. 5 at the Penn State Open, Hamel joined a very select group of Buffalo wrestlers, winning match number 100. Reaching the triple-digit mark was an honor for the redshirt senior, but he has his sights set on bigger goals.
"It was definitely in the back of my mind coming into the season, I was hoping to accomplish it sooner rather than later to get it over with," Hamel said about the record win. "Obviously I'm proud to have accomplished it but realistically my goal is the MAC and national tournaments."
"Jimmy did a nice job immediately," said head coach Jim Beichner. "He's talented and he's a hard worker. In a lot of ways he's one of our favorites."
Assistant coach Frank Beasley, who joined the coaching staff midway through Hamel's second season, knew right away Hamel possessed a special work ethic.
"Right away Jimmy was one of the guys I enjoyed working with the most because he was a hard worker and a good kid," Beasley said. "We've developed a very good relationship but right away in my first week on the job I identified him as someone who I wanted to work with."
Beasley also echoed Hamel's view that the 100 wins are merely a numerical representation of his success and that postseason tournaments are his true goals.
"I was really excited for him," Beasley said. "We had been counting down since late last year. We're excited for him and it's a milestone but it's ultimately not his goal, it's a step along to his ultimate goal of becoming an All-American."
An emphasis on postseason tournaments has served Hamel well for the better part of his career as a Bull. With a potential third appearance in the NCAA tournament, Hamel would join an even more select group – he would become the second wrestler to be a three-time national qualifier in Beichner's 15 years in Buffalo and the first since his predecessor Cerminara in 2006. He represents just one of four returning national qualifiers on the 2010-11 squad, a quartet that led many to come in to the season with high expectations for the team.
"This is the first year ever we had four national qualifiers returning so that was exciting for the four of us but obviously coming into a season when you're a returning qualifier, you at least have to get back there and do what you did last year and hopefully more," Hamel said. "From a team standpoint we definitely know that we're up this year and it starts with you wanting to do well individually but hopefully we can all come together and make some strides as a team."
While Hamel has been the model of consistency in the past for the team, it has been at 197 pounds. Coming into the season, Hamel dropped down to a new class, 184 pounds. While he was considered to be smaller for his weight class at 197 pounds, dropping down to his new slot has posed new challenges that Hamel has ably adapted to.
"The biggest difference was my dieting. I wrestled at 197 for four years and I tried my hardest to bulk up and get bigger and I had trouble doing that. We just figured I'd have my best shot at the end of the year if I moved to 184 pounds," Hamel said. "I was very nervous (dropping down in weight) especially since our first dual meet was against Boston and I was picked to go first. We had wrestle-offs before the dual and it gave me confidence that I could wrestle at this weight."
While he might have been nervous going into it, it was the dual in Boston against the Terriers that makes Hamel light up with a smile. For the first time in his college career, Hamel was able to wrestle in front of a captive audience as he had family and friends pack Case Gymnasium at Boston University to root on their hometown product.
"It was closest I had ever wrestled to home since I've been here," Hamel said. "I had my high school wrestling coaches and football coaches, all my friends that go to school in Boston and all my family. There were more Buffalo fans there than Boston fans", he added with a grin.
After the win over the Terriers, Hamel and the Bulls had an even more memorable evening, as the team and the Hamel family welcomed the family of former UB wrestler Jeff Parker to a post-match celebration.
"It was an emotional time and it was a pretty special time," Hamel said as he remembered the night. The Bulls presented the family of Parker, who hail from nearby Foxborough, Massachusetts, with a commemorative hat that will help raise money for the Jeff Parker Foundation and cancer research.
Parker was more than just a teammate for Jimmy – he was a mentor and the impetus for Hamel's arrival to Buffalo in 2006. Parker helped Hamel adjust to the college level of wrestling and college in general. Though his untimely passing last spring affected Hamel, he recognizes just how much the team bonded over its common grief.
"We went through a couple big things with the passing of Jeff Parker. It was tough because he was from back home and he was one of the main reasons why I came to Buffalo. He helped me out more than just as a teammate," Hamel said. "It was tough but it really helped bring the team together and the coaching staff too. A wrestling team in general is closer than most, because we're so miserable together cutting weight and traveling. It's a tough sport and we're the only ones who know what each guy is going through. It has definitely helped us this year."
Beichner echoed Hamel's sentiments, adding, "I think all of us appreciate things a little bit more when you incur a loss. I know Jimmy has felt it and I have too as a coach."
Another thing that has helped has been the wealth of leadership on the team, along with the various types of leaders the team has. Hamel acknowledges that a wrestler like junior Desi Green leads vocally and with his performance on the mat, and Hamel sees himself as someone who keeps his head down and simply goes about his business.
"He's a silent leader," Beasley said. "He doesn't say a whole lot but when he does people listen. He's a natural-born leader and people will follow him because he's a likable guy and he works hard."
"I'm not so much vocal as much as I try to lead by example," Hamel said. "My dad always taught us to keep moving forward no matter what happens, and without that I might not have ever reached 100 wins. I learned it from my brothers too, working back home in landscaping 80 hours a week. It definitely got passed down."
This dogma comes from Hamel's upbringing as the youngest of 12 children, with six brothers and five sisters.
"It's why I chose the sport of wrestling because we always joked that you had to wrestle to get to the dinner table if you wanted to eat," Hamel said.
Having a wealth of older siblings paid dividends for him, as he leaned on them following the passing of his mother. One sibling even helped him hone his wrestling skills and achieve greatness on the highest level of Division I wrestling. His brother Dave wrestled at Division III Norwich University in Vermont from 1994 to 1998. He won 94 career matches and was an All-American after finishing third at the national championships. Dave coached Jimmy at Natick High School and pressed his younger brother to go the extra mile so he could excel in college.
"He was pretty much my partner. Without him I would've never had the success I had in high school," Jimmy said.
That success included a career record of 146-23 to go along with his state championship title. Even with that success, Hamel still admits that he had no idea how successful his time in Buffalo would be.
"Coming from Massachusetts where wrestling really isn't as competitive as it is in New York, Pennsylvania or Ohio, I had no idea. Especially since I was filling (Kyle) Cerminara's shoes, I never expected it at all but I'm happy with how things have gone."
Someone who is arguably happier with how Jimmy has done at Buffalo is his number one fan: his father Joe. From coming with Jimmy on his recruiting trip when first considering Buffalo to seeing him wrestle in his home state last month, Hamel's father has been another motivator to his success on the mat.
"He has meant everything to me. A major part of my success was just trying to make him proud and at times I felt like he was more excited about a win than I was," Hamel said with a smile. "He raised twelve kids which is no easy feat and he has always been my biggest fan and by far the one person I hope to make proud more than anyone else."
Beichner said he is thankful for the opportunity to mesh the Buffalo wrestling family with Jimmy's.
"It's a tremendous family and you would be hard-pressed to find a closer, better group of people than the Hamel family," Beichner said. "Every single Hamel we met was like a duplicate of Jimmy. They're all very gracious and good people and it's a family we're lucky to be a part of."
While the team approaches the midway point of the season, Hamel conveys the feeling that once his career as a Bull comes to a close, his home-away-from-home sickness may lead to an extended career at Buffalo. If – of course – he's asked.
"I'd like to stick around here and maybe become an assistant coach. I would like to help out the program since it's up and coming," Hamel said.
For Beichner, it's an intriguing thought.
"When somebody wants to stick around and stay, it means the community is nice, the school is great and your team is doing the right things," Beichner said. "We'd be lucky and would love to have Jimmy stay in Buffalo after this year because he's just one of those people you can just count on and he's a good person. You'd be crazy to not want him back here in Buffalo."