Brodarious Hamm waited years for his opportunity to come.
Since arriving at Auburn, Hamm has always been that up-and-comer who older players discussed with such reverence for his budding skillset and potential along the offensive line. Finally, with four starters from last season gone, and another strong showing during bowl practices in December, 2020 was lining up to be Hamm’s chance.
Then the coronavirus pandemic hit, bringing spring to a halt before it even started, resulting in uncertainty about the upcoming season altogether and, for Hamm, generating his own concerns and apprehensions about playing this season. As a cancer survivor and expecting father, the risks assumed by playing football in the midst of a pandemic are even more high-stakes for Hamm than for many of his teammates, and it was a decision he had to carefully weigh.
“To be honest, in the beginning, I wasn’t so sure,” Hamm said Thursday. “I know the coaches, they had a plan. The doctors and everything, they had a plan. It was just — you know, me, my personal healthy, I’m real strict about that. I like to make sure everything is good. In the beginning it was kind of rough because some players — everybody wasn’t taking it as serious as I was.”
Although Auburn had just three positive COVID-19 cases—all asymptomatic—during its initial round of testing in early June after players returned to campus, a midsummer string of positive tests prompted concern and, ultimately, a team accountability meeting.
“We have people on the team with kids. We have people on the team who has fought cancer. We have people on the team who need this season, more or less,” senior linebacker K.J. Britt said. “And we have people on the team that come from different backgrounds with different family members — and it’s so much at risk. And that’s what we told the team. ‘Look, it’s so much at risk for you to be not accountable to your brother.’”
Auburn hasn’t had a positive test since that meeting, according to Britt, and the team had just a 3.9 percent positive test rate out of 863 tests between June 4 and last week. The Tigers’ most recent round of tests, which happened before the start of fall camp, yielded zero positives, though four players are still working through quarantine protocol before they can return to the fold.
“When we had the meeting we kind of got it across to them that this is a serious matter and, like, I have to go home to my wife and other players have to go home to their wife — coaches too,” Hamm said. “So, I mean, after that meeting I feel like we actually got our point across to them, so I feel like it’s going to be OK.”
Hamm was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a rare form of cancer, in March 2016 shortly after signing with Auburn as a three-star offensive lineman out of Spalding, Ga. He began chemotherapy treatment and enrolled at Auburn, where the Tigers honored his scholarship despite his diagnosis. Nearly a year later, Hamm — along with fellow offensive lineman and cancer survivor Tashawn Manning — was cleared to return to practice that spring.
It was cause for celebration for Hamm, though his road back to football wasn’t yet over. He had work to do to get back into football shape and acclimate his body to the game after the rigors of chemotherapy while biding his time on Auburn’s depth chart the last three seasons.
“To be honest, back when I was diagnosed with cancer, I had to look at it in a sense that football was going to be there and right now I just have to get through this,” Hamm said. “Just stay praying to God. God has a bigger plan for me. At the end of the day football is going to be there, but my health is very important to me.”
Hamm was described as a “mauler” along the offensive line early on. His massive size — 6-foot-5 and 330 pounds — and strength, paired with his skillset, presented promise for the future of Auburn’s offensive line, even as it prepared to retool this season. Hamm drew more praise in December, when he was the buzz of bowl practices — often an indicator of future breakout potential.
For Hamm, 2020 was a year of promise. Then, tragedy struck in February, when he and his wife Kayla’s first son, Karter, unexpectedly died. A month later, the pandemic struck and further threw things into disarray.
It was a challenging time for Hamm, who in the last four years has had to overcome more than any college-aged person should have to, in it he found inspiration. He wanted to play this season for his son — he has often used the hashtag #DoItForKarter this offseason — but the ongoing pandemic and associated risks of participating in the sport this year made it difficult to fully commit early on.
“With my son, I’m still heartbroken to this day,” Hamm said. “I feel like that’s more of a motivation for me to go out there and grind with my brothers. They were there for me when I needed them the most and they still are. I feel like it’s just about me going out there and giving it my all every day in practice and in the meeting room and just being there for them when they need me.”
But Hamm, who is anticipating the birth of his first daughter with Kayla later this year, has trust in his teammates, coaches and Auburn’s medical professionals — especially after that pivotal July meeting. As Britt put it, there’s too much at risk for the players not to take those safety and health concerns seriously. And for Hamm, a likely starter this season, he has been through too much and worked too hard to give in now.
“I have to stay humble and just keep working,” Hamm said. “Let my coaches see that I’m one of the guys that I want them to be able to count on. I just come to practice every day, grind and keep that chip on my shoulder.”
Tom Green is an Auburn beat reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @Tomas_Verde.