Penn State Football: For Clifford And Hamler, The Bromance Has Been Years In The Making
KJ Hamler just smiled.
And then smiled some more.
"People don't really know about me and Cliff," he said following Penn State's 79-7 win over Idaho on Saturday. "Cliff's the reason I'm here. I wanted him to be my quarterback."
On Saturday, that dream finally became reality, with quarterback Sean Clifford and receiver Hamler connecting on four passes for 115-yards and two touchdowns. The first was a lofted 36-yard lob over the middle, Hamler running under the ball without a defender in sight and seemingly without an ounce of effort needed to do so. Not long after it was a beautifully thrown 21-yard touchdown in his arms, a defender only marginally closer.
It was like they had done this before. And they have, but just not that recently.
Ironically, for Clifford's game work in 2018, a 5-for-7 stat-line going for nearly 200-yards and two touchdowns, Hamler was never on the other end of those passes. By the time Clifford saw the field the game was over, which meant Hamler was on the sidelines resting his legs. So they watched each other work, but never worked together.
So where does the chemistry come from? The same place where so many football friendships and bonds are found: camps during the recruiting process, afternoons on random fields across America as scouts looked on, judging away. This connection wasn't the product of long summers in State College and hours in the film room; it was natural, a recruiting journey that took both of them across the nation and back again.
"Cliff and I always joke around....ah man..." Hamler said fondly. "He got me to come here. Through the recruiting process, I wanted Cliff to be my quarterback. He used to throw with me at Rivals' camps and stuff of that nature. I'd say 'no I'm going with Cliff.' I didn't want that one quarterback. I wanted Cliff. So Cliff and I always tag-teamed at every camp we went to.
"I just like how he's aggressive, he takes shots," Hamler added. "He takes risks. Sometimes you need that. I think Cliff did a really good job today. I love him to death, so I think he really stepped up to be a leader and our quarterback."
The friendship has blossomed into something both personal and inherently professional. Clifford will need help as he transitions into the starting role, and Hamler, who pulled down a respectable 42 receptions in 2018, will need someone who understands him in order to take his own game to the next level.
Hamler also jokes that he loves Clifford's family. "His little brother is like my litter brother, even though he's bigger than me," Hamler said with a laugh.
They need each other, and they both want each other. Where a new quarterback and his receivers might need time to bond, Hamler and Clifford having been waiting for this moment. They've been waiting to take those meaningless passes at recruiting camps and make them count on the field. They've been itching to finally connect again. If there was a hidden storyline to be found in the departure of Tommy Stevens, it's that college football's biggest bromance might suddenly become public knowledge.
The pitch? The thing that finally got Hamler to pull the trigger and commit to Penn State almost six months after Clifford did?
"It was for days like this," Clifford said, reminiscing. "Scoring touchdowns together, having that connection and when you can do it with one of your really good friends, best friends in the world it's always a cool thing...I was just having so much fun."
The dynamic duo will have to prove their worth against better competition than Idaho, but Saturday showcased what the two can do together, and what can happen when a quarterback with a cannon arm is throwing to one of his best friends, who just so happens to be one of the most explosive players in the nation.
And they've been waiting too long to stop now.