How Kyle Hamilton and three other Notre Dame players are training together in Atlanta

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

Ed Miller’s first prediction about Kyle Hamilton’s Notre Dame career came true.

Not only would Hamilton not redshirt, Miller believed, but he’d also make a significant impact as a freshman last season.

What Miller prophesied may have seemed like a reach at the time. With veteran starting safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott heading the position group, Hamilton’s opportunities to show his prowess were limited. Yet despite playing less than half the defensive snaps, Hamilton claimed freshman All-America recognition and led the Irish with four interceptions.

Miller knew Hamilton well after training him since he was in the eighth grade. After working with him during winter break and a few times since last week, Miller’s ready for another prediction.

“He will be a top five draft pick when he comes out,” said Miller, the founder of The Rack Performance Athletic Center in Atlanta.

Three other Irish sophomores, linebackers JD Bertrand and Jack Kiser and cornerback KJ Wallace, joined Hamilton at The Rack this week. With the coronavirus pandemic halting Notre Dame’s football activities indefinitely, Bertrand, Hamilton and Wallace will stay home in the Atlanta area.

Those three, excluding Kiser, will spend time with Miller for as long as he keeps his facility open. Kiser will return to his home in Royal Center, Ind., this weekend.

Hamilton’s work under Miller intensified once his high school basketball career concluded last March. His progress before arriving in South Bend shows what could be accomplished by the Notre Dame trio in the coming weeks.

On March 11, 2019, Hamilton recorded a 33-inch vertical, 117-inch broad jump and a laser-timed 1.76-second 10-yard dash. Three months later, he boosted those numbers to 40 inches, 122 inches and 1.66 seconds, respectively.

“If you get incrementally better,” Miller said, “you take that as a win. He got leaps above better.”

At 6-foot-3, 190 pounds this time last year, Hamilton hoped to add weight while maintaining his explosiveness. He joined the Irish at 200 pounds before making additional gains in height and weight. Now at 6-4, 215, Hamilton’s looking to top out at 220 pounds.

Mobility work will dominate Hamilton’s focus with Miller going forward, though. Miller identified Hamilton’s tightness as an area needing improvement. Stretching exercises will play a major role in his workouts.

“We do a lot of hip mobility work with him,” Miller said. “He’s got to break down, cut and jump. Everything for him is about explosion through the hips. You hear that in football constantly, explode through the hips.

“He’s got to be looser with his hips. In the past, he’s had some lower back problems, which I’m sure they are aware of. He’s had ankle problems. His left ankle, he constantly rolls for whatever reason. So we will do some ankle stability and mobility stuff as well. Make sure that his lower back is loose.”

Under Miller, the emphasis for Hamilton’s workouts won’t be the same for his other athletes. By keeping his client base smaller than some other private trainers, Miller can better individualize his workout plans. He will provide Bertrand, Wallace and Kiser their own workouts that pertain to their needs.

When Bertrand started training with Miller last February, he focused on returning to normal after suffering an MCL sprain in his right knee late in his senior season. Bertrand brings the best flexibility and mobility among the group, Miller said, so his training will emphasize improving his power and explosion.

The 6-1, 228-pound Bertrand sits behind senior Drew White and junior Bo Bauer on the depth chart at middle linebacker. Bertrand’s work ethic, though, leads Miller to believe his time will come soon.

“That is JD’s best attribute,” Miller said, “and that’s why I think that once he gets on the field, he is going to be very successful. He just refuses to lose. You don’t see that a lot with kids his age.”

According to Miller, Wallace told him he could receive work at nickelback this season. The Irish feel he possesses the frame (5-10, 185 pounds) and quickness to succeed as the extra defensive back covering shiftier wide receivers in space. With Notre Dame’s minimal cornerback experience, Wallace could also ascend to second-team status at that position.

Wallace’s attitude almost came off as indifferent to Miller when the two started working together last March. Miller learned Wallace just brings personality and needed to be pushed, even if that requires unflattering comments.

“He wants to prove you wrong just so he can turn it back and throw it into your face,” Miller said. “That’s what gets him fired up.”

“He’s got a good blend of multiple qualities. I talked about how Kyle was powerful but needed to be stronger. JD being really strong but needing to be able to display that a little better on the field with power. KJ is kind of a combination between the two.

“For his size, he’s very strong, but he’s also very powerful too. He can sprint. He probably has the best sprinting mechanics of any of them. He can move very quickly, fluidly.”

Kiser operated at rover last year but is expected to move to buck linebacker. Senior Jordan Genmark Heath, junior Jack Lamb and the 6-2, 221-pound Kiser are among a handful of players that will compete at the position after last year’s starter, Asmar Bilal, used up his eligibility.

After one workout with Kiser, Miller quipped about calling him a Bertrand.

“He reminds me a lot of JD — just a kid who will work his (expletive) off and will do whatever you tell him to do,” Miller said. “He’s a big kid. He’s incredibly strong. He’s a little tight. So I would say his mobility needs work.

“But I haven’t watched him on the field, so I can’t tell you if he’s explosive or not. I’m sure he’s explosive.”

How much longer Hamilton, Bertrand and Wallace train at The Rack remains unclear to Miller. He may have to close his facility soon. Bars and restaurants are closing in major cities. Government officials are discouraging people from attending gatherings with more than 10 people.

The Rack never exceeds more than 15 occupants and adheres to health precautions, Miller said.

“We are making everyone when they come in, the first thing they do is go to the bathroom and wash their hands,” Miller said. “Between sets, as soon as you get done with something, wipe it down whether it’s a dumbbell, bench or medicine ball. If it’s used, wipe it down.

“We have a disinfectant that we are using to wipe stuff down and hand sanitizer as well. As soon as the guys are done, we have them go wash their hands.”

If Miller closes his facility, he will stay in touch with his clients like he did during their football seasons. He knows what to expect from Hamilton.

“Notre Dame better enjoy him while they can,” Miller said, “because he’s that type of athlete that doesn’t come around a lot.”

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Nick Jackson, from left, Kyle Hamilton, Ed Miller, KJ Wallace, Jared Rayman and JD Bertrand pose for a picture at The Rack Athletic Performance Center in Atlanta in 2019.
KJ Wallace, Jack Kiser, JD BertrandNotre Dame cornerback KJ Wallace, from left, and linebackers Jack Kiser and JD Bertrand pose for a picture after working out at The Rack Athletic Performance Center in Atlanta on Thursday.