On Saturday mornings in the fall, the campus at the University of Illinois was abuzz before a home football game, and then-student Latif Hamdan wondered why.
“He’s a science genius,” said his son Bush Hamdan. “He told me, ‘On Saturdays, I’d see everyone going somewhere.’”
One generation later, Latif Hamdan knows what he was missing. His older son Gibran Hamdan, 23, was selected in the seventh round of the NFL college draft by the Washington Redskins, while younger son Bush Hamdan attends elite summer football camps and makes Division I-A recruiting trips as he enters his senior year of high school. Big-time football isn’t likely to pass Latif Hamdan by again. His younger son has seen the transformation.
“He said, ‘If I’d have known back in the day that it was like this, I’d have never missed a game,’” Bush Hamdan said.
EVEN IF HE DIDN’T know the sports scene as an undergraduate, Latif Hamdan knew as a father that he wanted his sons to be involved in sports. His career brought him and his family to Kuwait in the 1980s, as he worked on desalinization and water resource projects for the Kuwait Institute of Scientific Research.
“My husband was very much into the idea that kids should play sports, to keep them out of trouble,” said Laila Hamdan.
In the Kuwaiti desert, it was a baseball league that did this, as diplomatic families and other international workers would play regularly.
“There was no American football there. I didn’t know about that sport until I came to the U.S.,” said Gibran Hamdan. “There was baseball, and we played on an all-dirt field.”
While visiting the U.S. in 1991, the Hamdans’ Kuwaiti house was bombed during the beginning of the first Gulf War. The family has not returned since.
“That was such a tragedy. Not only did we lose everything we had with the kids … we left a lot of good friends and good kids behind,” said Laila Hamdan.
Gibran Hamdan, then 9, didn’t understand the politics of the war, he said, only that their home was gone. “It was foreign to us, a lot of the things that happened,” Gibran Hamdan said. “It would be hard to understand for anybody.”
WITH NO HOME, the Hamdans stayed with family in San Diego as Latif Hamdan awaited security clearance to begin working for the U.S. Gibran was in late elementary school, and Bush was starting kindergarten. The boys were separated from friends they knew, but the game of baseball was familiar, and they got involved in California Little League.
“They adjusted really well, and I think the reason was that they had sports to fall back on,” said Laila Hamdan. The sports leagues “became like a family atmosphere all over again.”
After a year in California, the family moved to Potomac, near Churchill High School, as Latif Hamdan began a career with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, where he has served on the Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste.
Some of Bush Hamdan’s earlier memories are playing football with his brother nearby. “Gibran and I used to always play on the Hoover [Middle School] field,” he said. Bush Hamdan attended Beverly Farms Elementary, while Gibran went to Hoover, then Churchill for two years.
“I had a good time, I really enjoyed the school,” said Gribran Hamdan. “I have a couple of good friends [from Churchill].” He played football on Churchill’s junior varsity team, but there was no indication of a future career in football.
“I wasn’t very good, to be honest,” he said. “My main sport at the time was baseball.”
Gibran Hamdan played on a select national baseball team that traveled to Japan the summer after his sophomore year of high school. One of his coaches received a job at Bishop O’Connell in Arlington, and the family could now afford private school for Gibran and Bush, as they had in Kuwait. Gibran Hamdan transferred to O’Connell for his junior year in 1997. After the family moved to North Potomac, Bush Hamdan attended Ridgeview Middle School, then he too went on to high school at O’Connell.
BASEBALL REMAINED the biggest sports draw for Gibran, who didn’t play football in his junior year, trying out for the football team at Bishop O’Connell after the likely starting quarterback transferred out. “I had an okay year my senior year,” said Gibran Hamdan. “We stopped running the option, and started throwing the dickens out of the ball.”
O’Connell’s new gameplan led to 2,149 passing yards and 12 touchdowns for Hamdan, who also ran for five touchdowns. He was named the Virginia Independent Schools’ player of the year.
But when Gibran Hamdan went to Indiana, he entered a program where Antwaan Randle El, now a receiver with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was on his way to First Team All-American status, with 3,895 passing yards, 7,469 rushing yards and accounting for 89 touchdowns.
“When I got to Indiana, I was very split down the middle,” said Gibran Hamdan. “I didn’t think anyone was going to start over Antwaan.”
He was right, and after a redshirt freshman year (remaining eligible to play in the following four years), Hamdan was limited to occasional appearances as the backup quarterback and holding for placekicks. “I like to think I supported the entire football team when I was [the backup quarterback],” he said.
Meanwhile, he was starting at first base on the baseball team, batting .355 in his senior season with 38 runs batted in.
WITH RANDEL EL’S graduation, Hamdan had the opportunity to start for Indiana football last year. He passed for 2,115 yards with nine touchdowns. He won Big 10 Co-Offensive Player of the Week honors after the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin 32-29, going 24-for-36 with four touchdowns.
“That was a great moment, something I’ll remember forever,” said Gibran Hamdan.
Leila Hamdan traveled almost every weekend to see her son play. The Wisconsin game was the highlight, though four Hamdan interceptions and the nip-and-tuck game made it agony.
“For a mother, it’s really hard to watch,” she said. “I almost had a heart attack.”
Last year was Hamdan’s redshirt senior season, and he was already finished with his college baseball career. “I ended up graduating in four years, which I was pretty proud of,” he said. After his season as a football starter, baseball was no longer a factor.
“I really made up my mind that I was going to focus on being drafted [by the NFL]; I was going to take all the football opportunities out there,” Gibran Hamdan said.
He attended an invitational practice with the Redskins last spring, impressing Washington enough to draft Hamdan in the seventh round No. 232 overall, over such high-profile players as Ken Dorsey, who quarterbacked at the University of Miami.
"We were very impressed with him,” said Redskins head coach Steve Spurrier. "He threw the ball extremely well, and we think Gibran has a lot of potential. He looks like a pro quarterback. … He has a chance.”
WHEN BUSH HAMDAN went to visit his older brother in his apartment after the Redskins drafted him, Bush saw all he needed to know. “All the [other] guys were going out, and he was in his pajamas, drawing up plays on the whiteboard,” said Bush Hamdan, who is most impressed by “all the time he spends learning the game when other guys might be out partying.”
Can Gibran Hamdan make the cut? Yes, says Bush Hamdan. “This is the honest-to-God answer,” he said. “I was never the brother to hype Gibran up [but] there’s more than the size and the great arm. … This guy can be an NFL player.”
As his older brother looks to make the next step as a quarterback, Bush Hamdan enters his senior year of high school looking to do the same. He has started as quarterback at O’Connell since his sophomore year.
He was one of 59 quarterbacks nationwide who was invited to the Elite 11 quarterback tryouts camp in Las Vegas this summer, an opportunity for aspiring college quarterbacks to practice before college scouts. Hamdan visited University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), and says he has heard from Penn State and Syracuse as well.
“I think it’s pretty big to even go to [The Elite 11],” said Bush Hamdan. “You get a lot more exposure.”
“A big thing is looking the part,” he said. “Now it’s your senior year, and the colleges are looking to sign guys your age.”
Bush Hamdan says his brother’s experience played a large part in his interest in playing quarterback. “There was definitely a lot of that,” Bush Hamdan said. “You also see all the attention you get at that position. … All I’ve ever known is quarterbacking. It’s a position that suits myself, same as my brother.”
Bush Hamdan also plays baseball, and he sings in the school choir. The similarities abound between the brothers, but there are differences, said their mother. “Where sports are concerned, they both know what they want and they go out and get that,” she said. “Gibran is very focused, and Bush is more full of life.”
As he enters the peak stretch of the college recruiting process, Bush Hamdan keeps in mind the atmosphere he has seen during road trips to Penn State and Michigan. “I’m a big college football fan,” he said. “If this isn’t the life, then what is?”
FOR TWO PARENTS who were not avid sports fans, the Hamdans have helped their sons make the most of their talents. For Laila Hamdan, her sons’ sports opportunities have made a difference, but they are not the final goal.
“In the end, it really matters what kind of person you are,” said Laila Hamdan. “They’re good kids.”
The Redskins’ training camp begins next week, and Gibran Hamdan will try to play his way onto the team’s roster.