ENGLEWOOD — K.J. Hamler boasts a smirk straight out of central casting. When he tells a story or goofs around, joy remains palpable.
That's what made the past seven months so difficult. Too often, his teeth disappeared. There was no smile. Hamler found himself in a difficult spot after tearing his ACL and ravaging his hip in Week 3 against the New York Jets. He landed awkwardly as he jumped for a pass, the subsequent injuries requiring surgery.
"I was in a dark place for a while going through that. Then I lost my grandmother (Ethel Gooding) two months after that. She was my best friend and I had to put her to rest. That was probably the toughest thing for me. Now that I’m back on the field and around all the guys and I’m being able to do a little bit of what I was able to do before — it’s uplifting my spirits," Hamler said. "I won’t say that I’m out of that dark place, but I’m getting better. I can tell you that.”
Hamler credited his parents for their support as he rehabbed his second major knee injury. He ruptured his ACL during his senior year of high school. That left him with a recovery road map, and better resources as a member of a professional football team. He has also had an inspiration.
"(Grandma) was my rock, really. No one has taken care of me more than her besides my actual mother. I used to take her to get her hair done and get her food every time I came home. She was going through struggles. She had Parkinson’s disease. There were days where I didn’t want to show up to therapy, but I always thought about her.," said Hamler, who admitted he will leave the dark place when he's able to play in games again.
"She was doing therapy, so I had to go do it. I knew she wouldn’t give up, so I didn’t give up."
Hamler is rocketing through his rehab. He insisted Wednesday that he would be ready for training camp in late July. No evidence exists to doubt him.
“I couldn’t be more impressed with anyone in our building than KJ Hamler,” general manager George Paton said recently. “Significant injury and no one fights, no one works (harder), no one has more passion. The fact that I saw him running routes last month at Russell (Wilson's camp), I mean, I know he’s doing well, I know his surgery went well, but when I saw him out there (running routes), it was very impressive.”
Hamler features easy speed. And he's not quick, he's sudden. Last training camp, he appeared ready to break through after hamstring issues sabotaged his rookie season, limiting him to 30 catches and three touchdowns. He became a dependable deep threat, catching an 80-yard touchdown against the Vikings in the preseason.
However, he managed only five receptions for 74 yards before his season ended in pain on Sept. 26. In his third year, Hamler has reached a crossroads, his talent obvious, but the production failing to match. In many ways, he mirrors a receiving group — Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick — that, save for Patrick, has delivered underwhelming numbers the past two seasons.
Now, everything is different with Wilson under center. Anything seems possible.
"I think it's a lot of stuff we have to prove to everybody and everybody has their own personal stuff they want to prove. My first two seasons were not what I wanted or I predicted to happen. But it happened, so just. ... I feel like we are the best (receiving) corps in the league, hands down. Other people can say whatever they want. That's just my opinion," said Hamler, who has talked with Seahawks slot receiver Tyler Lockett on how to build rapport with Wilson.
"We are going do anything and everything, work our butts off and get back on the field and show everybody what we can do."