Ex-Leesville standout Hamm now shining for ULM

By By Chuck Cannon / Special to the American Press

FORT POLK — When Je’Ron Hamm was just a baby in Sulzbach, Germany, his dad said he got an indication sports would be a big

part of his child’s life — albeit not the sport he expected.

“We had a bunch of balloons on the floor and he would grab them and dribble them like a basketball,” said Ronald Hamm, who

retired as a first sergeant at Fort Polk in 2003 after a 20-year Army career. “I thought for sure he would be a basketball

player.”

And why not? Both the elder Hamm and his spouse, Sonya, were high school basketball stars and all-around athletes. It was

only natural their son would follow in their footsteps. But a chance meeting occurred as the youngster entered his junior

year of high school — a football coach got his attention.

“I had always thought I’d play basketball,” Je’Ron said. “I went out for football when I was at Leesville Junior High School,

but it was only because my friends were playing and I wanted to hang with them.”

But as he moved into high school, Leesville High School football coach Terrence Williams cornered the 6-foot tall wide receiver

and told him he should take football seriously.

“Coach Williams told me I was too tall

and too big not to be a good football player,” Hamm said. “ I started

working at it

and went to summer camps with friends like (former Leesville and

current LSU Tigers running back) Michael Ford and got better

and wound up having an excellent senior year.”

Hamm earned first-team all-District

4-3A, first-team all-Vernon Parish and first team all-central Louisiana

honors as a senior

after setting the single-season school record for receiving yards

(750) and receiving touchdowns (8). He helped lead Leesville

to back-to-back district championships.

Hamm received a football scholarship to

Louisiana-Monroe. That might have been the end of the story as ULM is a

school that

had fallen on hard times since its move to big-time college

football in the 1990s. But this past summer, Je’Ron said he and

his teammates committed themselves to be the best they could be.

“I gained about 15 pounds of muscle and dropped my time in the 40 (yard dash),” he said. “And then, the first game of the

year, we played Arkansas.”

The Razorbacks, a member of the

powerful SEC and ranked No. 8 in the nation, were

expected to run roughshod

over Sun Belt Conference also-ran ULM. But someone forgot to tell

the Warhawks they were supposed to lose. With Hamm as one

of the catalysts with six receptions for 92 yards, ULM pulled off

the upset of the year, tackling Arkansas 34-31 in overtime.

“They beat us bad (31-7) my true freshman year,” Je’Ron said. “We put in a lot of work. The only difference in them and us

was their big name and the stickers on the sides of our helmets.

“It was a great feeling to see our fans travel up there (Little Rock) and to be able to give them a win. When we got back

at about 2 a.m., there were about 1,000 students and fans at our stadium to welcome us home.”

The victory laid the groundwork to a season that saw ULM finish 8-4 with its first invitation to a bowl game — the Independence

Bowl, Friday in Shreveport.

Hamm said being a military dependent instilled in him a sense of discipline.

“It taught me to have a strategy and finish what I started,” he said. “I never thought about quitting.”

Hamm’s mom and dad said they are proud — and amazed — to see their son shine on the gridiron.

“It’s amazing to see him play, not just on the football field, but also on television in front of millions of people and hear

the announcer talk about how talented your son is,” Ronald Hamm said. “It’s nerve-wracking, watching him play against guys

that are huge and hit hard. But we pray for God to cover him and all the players.”

Hamm’s mom said she’s proud of how her son has developed into a man.

“My favorite saying is, ‘You play until you win and quitting is not an option,’” she said. “I am in awe, amazed, it’s surreal.

I’m trying to embrace the moment.”

As for a football career post-college,

Je’Ron has one game left. But based on the numbers the prototypical wide

receiver posted

this season — 58 catches, 862 yards, six touchdowns and selection

as second-team all-Sun Belt — it’s a good bet professional

teams will be watching him closely.

“I had not thought much about the pros, but when we played Arkansas, and I was able to get open against SEC-caliber players

and run over them, I began to think I might have a shot in the pros,” he said.

Dad sounded more sure.

“I definitely think he’ll be in the NFL,” Ronald Hamm said. “He has the poise, mind-set and physical ability to be successful.”

And mom said she even hears from people she doesn’t know that her son is destined for the NFL.

“It’s (NFL career) not something I

thought would happen, but I was in Atlanta last week, talking to a man I

had not met before,”

she said. “He knew Je’Ron was my son and played at ULM and told

me, ‘I think we’ll be seeing your son play on Sunday afternoons

one day.’”

Which is a long way from bouncing a balloon on the floor of military quarters in Sulzbach, Germany.