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January 24, 2013

Rami Hammad: Living the dream

IRVING - We hear the term "dream school" all the time in the recruiting world. Some kids mean it. Some kids don't. Some kids get to fulfill it. Many kids don't. To those that have followed recruiting and heard it for years, it might even sound a little cliché. But to the prospects that are able to fulfill that dream, there is nothing cliché or fabricated about it. It's real. And you can tell it's real because they can't hide it.

This week, it became real for Irving offensive lineman Rami Hammad. He's a Longhorn, and he couldn't be happier about the decision.

Once Hammad knew that Texas offensive coach Stacy Searels was genuinely interested in him, it was just a matter of time. In fact, Searels apologized for not going after the 6-5, 320-pound senior earlier, and hoped it didn't hurt Texas' chances. What Searels didn't know is that there was no way it could.

"I knew he was interested … at first, it was regular interest," Hammad, decked out in Texas gear, said in the Irving head coach's office on Wednesday evening. "He said he'll come see me Tuesday, and then the next day I get the offer. He said, 'I loved you from the beginning, and I regret not recruiting you as a junior. I hope this doesn't affect us in this process.' I went up there and visited. I sat there with coach and went through a lot of things, and getting information from here and there … if you go to UT, you're set for life. Like they said, it's a 40-year decision, not a four-year decision. Everything fell into place, and it felt like home."

When the nation's No. 172 player in the Rivals250 realized Texas was genuine with its interest, the excitement was something he simply couldn't contain. Family members tried to calm Hammad down, but he knew what this meant.

"They said to me, 'Take it easy. I know you're excited. Make sure we compare it to other schools.' I said there is no comparison," Hammad said. "This is where I want to be. I had over 50 offers. I was really blessed to have the opportunity to choose where I wanted to go. All those offers were just like a checkmark on a book. This one, it felt like so much more. I was so excited when I got the offer."

A longtime Baylor commitment, Hammad thought he was solid to the Bears. However, after a dominant performance his senior season followed by an even more dominant performance at the Semper Fi All-American Bowl, more schools came calling. Texas was one of those schools. The attention from UT, and eventual offer, was impossible for the four-star prospect to deny.

"At first I thought I was solid to Baylor, but then as soon as I talked to Texas it was just a big question mark that popped up," stated Hammad. "I knew it was a dream school. I was comfortable with Baylor for quite a bit, and never thought I was going to switch. But when a dream school drops in, it's hard to deny an offer like that. And I'm not just going to go there and be a guy. I want to be the guy on the offensive line. That's one thing I said. 'I want to make sure I'm the guy you want, coach.' And he confirmed that to me, and after reassuring me with Mack Brown seeing me, I felt like that was the place I needed to go."

Growing up, all sports fans and athletes normally develop a dream school. For Hammad, that moment came when he was young. Long drives across the state of Texas included a drive through Austin, and those moments are where Hammad's love for the Longhorns began.

"As a kid, my parents were divorced and we drove through Austin to get from Dallas to McAllen," Texas' newest commitment said. "Every time I drive by, I'd see the Longhorns playing and I'd see all the fans. I used to pass by, and I said, 'I want to be that guy on that field playing and having all those people watching me.' If you grow up in Texas, all you see right and left are Longhorns. It just kind of fell into place and it turned into my dream school. Early in the recruiting process, I didn't get the offer and I know they offer early. I never thought it would be something that would come true, and when it did … it was just amazing."

When the standout from Irving High School eventually got down to Austin for his official visit, he enjoyed every part of it.

"I actually met Vince Young at our dinner at the Vince Young Steakhouse," Hammad said with a big smile. "I went to Mack Brown's house. I saw campus. I just had an absolute blast. I loved the city. It was like New York in a small town. Academically, they're really high on the charts. In my head, I was thinking academics? Check. Football? Check. Tradition? Check. Do I like this place? Check. And that was something big with me considering my religion and academics and stuff. I wanted to make sure it fit, but I knew it would."

Hammad holds offers from the likes of LSU, Oklahoma, Texas A&M, Ole Miss and many others. So, he clearly had opportunities to play, and probably play early. When the senior met with Searels on his visit, he was convinced if he was good enough to play, he would.

"We watched a little bit of 'drill tape' just to get a feel of how he does things," stated Hammad about his meeting with Searels, the Texas offensive line coach. "But he wants to put the best guys on the field, and that's something I saw in his eyes when he talked to me. He said the best five will play. That's all that matters. That's all I want is an opportunity. And if I get that opportunity, I know I'll shine. And he really sounded truthful when he said that. He's played freshmen. It's a hard thing to do for a coach to put a senior on the bench when a freshman is better than him."

When the Longhorns eventually got the news that Hammad was switching his commitment from Baylor to Texas, the coaches were obviously happy.

"They were really happy," Hammad said of the UT coaches. "He (Searels) said, 'We're going to be the best offensive line in the nation.' I guarantee we have the best offensive line in the nation. I want to add to that and go win a national championship."

It's probably fair to say that the big, physical, 6-5 lineman will enter Texas with a chip on his shoulder. However, it won't be because he watched the interest from all sorts of college programs pick up late. Believe it or not, this nationally-rated recruit wasn't always in the spotlight, or on the top team.

"Something people don't know about me is that nothing has ever been given to me," stated Hammad. "Seventh grade year I was on 'B' team; eighth grade year I was on 'B' team; ninth grade year I was on 'B' team; then I was on junior varsity; and then first year of varsity … boom. I shined. Nothing was ever given. I always had to work and fight hard at every level. I always believed. I had the physical ability. I just needed to learn the game. In the end, it's really paid off. If it takes time to build up and you go the hard route, it's hard for someone to knock you off your route. I truly believe that."

So, what are the Longhorns getting in Hammad? If he has his way, they'll be getting a player that can make a big impact on the offensive line, and in the Texas program.

"I go 100 percent," said Texas' 15th commitment. "I will always go to the whistle blows, and sometimes over that. But I try to keep that under control. I'm a hard worker in the weight room. I'm a hard worker on the team. I'm always on time. I just love the game. It's just really a blessing and I'm trying to take advantage of it."


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