If you want to know what Malik Hamm could do for the Baltimore Ravens, turn on the film from the last time he played at M&T Bank Stadium.
Admittedly, it was six years ago, but his then-coach Mike Hamilton remembers it clearly. In the middle of that 2017 football game between Baltimore City College and its century-old archrival Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (Poly), he saw a winning streak crumbling in front of him.
“I’m standing there thinking, ‘Damn, we’re gonna lose this game,’” Hamilton recalled. “I hadn’t lost to Poly on the varsity level since I played. This cannot be that first time.”
Enter Hamm, a defensive end who had already wreaked havoc on Engineers but stamped himself on City football lore by literally snatching victory from Poly’s grasp. He plucked a ball from the unfortunate hands of a Poly running back, then made it 48 yards down the field before stumbling over a teammate. The late fourth-quarter play set up the Black Knights for the winning score, and Hamm — who had already notched a line-of-scrimmage interception, pressured the QB on another pick and forced another fumble — was the unquestioned MVP.
Hamilton can’t quite articulate what about Hamm makes him such a dominant player, from his youth football days with the Northwood Rams to becoming the Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year at Lafayette College last fall. But he does know this: “He just makes things happen.”
A few years since that highlight reel moment in his hometown, Hamm is trying to earn more games at M&T Bank Stadium: He’s one of the undrafted free agents in Ravens camp this fall, with tough odds to make the final roster as a 6-foot-3 outside linebacker. But let his Lafayette-record 32 sacks during his college career tell you: It’s tough getting between Hamm and something he wants.
But beyond what Hamm brings to the field, you’re not going to find a better feel-good story with homegrown roots. This is a Baltimore City kid who grew up wearing Ravens purple, a third-generation City football player, who was only last year cheering every Lamar Jackson dash out of the pocket — and suddenly finds himself lining up across from him.
He tries his hardest “not to fan-out” and be professional around teammates like Odell Beckham or Roquan Smith, but every now and then the weight of what he’s trying to accomplish simply wallops him.
“It makes you feel like a little kid and you’re living a dream,” he said. “To get that phone call from your home team, it’s just an amazing feeling. I wish everybody could feel that at least once in their life.”
It’s possible Hamm could be a Raven, in spite of going to an FCS college and not getting drafted. The franchise has kept at least one undrafted free agent in 18 of the last 19 seasons, and from the top down, the Ravens coaches and decision-makers are known to love an underdog story.
What’s more: Hamm has never been shy about having to work for what he gets.
His appreciation for discipline may come, in part, from having family members in law enforcement. His grandfather, Leonard Hamm, was a city police commissioner, and his father, Akil Hamm, oversees police in Baltimore City Schools.
But Mia Hamm, Malik’s mother, remembers that her second-oldest son’s love of a schedule seemed precocious. On Saturdays when other members of his family were content to enjoy a lazy morning, Malik was the one wondering: What’s the plan for today?
“An organized perfectionist — no surprise that it carried over to sports,” Mia Hamm said. “He’s always wanted to outline the steps in everything he’s done.”
A child with such a love for structure takes naturally to sports. Malik and his older brother, Akil Jr., were fanatics, and he played baseball and lacrosse in addition to his gridiron exploits. But it was clear football would take him somewhere — Hamilton, a former Black Knight himself, heard about Malik when he was still in youth football. His nickname, even then, was “Muscles.”
The other thing Mia Hamm remembered about Malik’s football journey: He’s always had a sense that things were going to work out. As she stressed about his recruiting in the winter of his senior year at City, Malik seemed calm, unflappable. He was guided by a sense that he would find his place in college football; when the family first visited Lafayette in Easton, Pennsylvania, Malik’s serenity seemed prophetic: “It was like home right away,” Mia Hamm said.
Lafayette didn’t offer the spotlight experience of higher-level college football, but it was the supportive environment he was looking for: tailgates before games, family dinners after, close relationships with coaches he could tell cared about him.
It’s funny to think about now: For Malik, who loves preset paths to follow, Lafayette’s path to the NFL was not very clear at all. The last Leopard to get drafted was Chris Thatcher in 1987. He actually learned to relish that feeling.
“I felt sort of like a trailblazer,” he said. “I looked to the Von Millers and people like that, but I kind of feel like I had to build my own path. There wasn’t really nobody I could really see in my shoes who had a legit shot.”
Lafayette linebackers coach Drew Seumalo helped Malik build that path. While he already was one of the Patriot League’s best down linemen entering his senior year, Seumalo helped him expand his repertoire as a standup linebacker who could play coverage. It didn’t come naturally to Malik, so he spent many extra hours developing the skill set. He wound up earning his fifth all-league honor — the last play of his college career was a sack.
All last season, Seumalo would banter with Malik about their two favorite teams: the Eagles and the Ravens, respectively. Malik would tout Jackson, while Seumalo would argue Jalen Hurts was the better quarterback.
Seumalo cheered for Philadelphia because his brother Isaac was an offensive lineman for the Eagles. This season, Isaac now is in camp with the Steelers — and while it’s wild for Drew to imagine his star protegee potentially lining up for a pass rush against his brother, he’s not that surprised, either.
“I’ve given him enough insight to play at the next level — he’s ready for it,” Seumalo said. “Nothing I need to tell him that he hasn’t heard a million different times. He always wants to get better.”
You can bet, too, that the Hamms will be out in force this coming month. They’ve been full-throated supporters of Malik since the Northwood days, some of the loudest, proudest members of the crowd at City and Lafayette. In April, Malik called them during a family dinner to let them know he had signed with the Ravens — the Hamms made a minor scene as they celebrated at a restaurant, shaking and hooting with joy.
Mia Hamm wants to come up to a few training camp sessions, with the hope that there will be more games to come in the fall. Malik keeps his ears open to hear her support.
“I really seen them root for me in college — now I’m a player on their favorite team,” Malik said. “I know that love’s gonna be unconditional.”
If you want to join the Hamm family’s spirit club, climb aboard. With apologies to Poly fans, there’s plenty of room on the bandwagon.