2024 CFL Draft profiles: Colgate DB Arthur Hamlin says ‘so what, now what’ after surviving cancer diagnosis

Photo courtesy: Brian Foley/Colgate Athletics

As much as any prospect in the 2024 CFL Draft, Arthur Hamlin has Canadian football in his blood.

The Colgate University defensive back is seeking to become the third generation of his family to have their name etched on the Grey Cup, joining his grandfather Howard Hamlin of the 1920s powerhouse Toronto Balmy Beach Beachers and uncle, Howard Jr., of the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1960s. Arthur’s father, Geof, an award-winning fullback at the University of North Carolina, had his own cup of coffee in the league with the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, while his brother Nate has had recent stints with Ottawa, B.C., and Edmonton.

Yet, Hamlin knows all too well that blood can carry more than just his genetic gifts. It was nearly three years ago that the Ottawa native first noticed a lump on his neck during the 2021 spring season. Initially prescribed antibiotics by the trainers, the swelling didn’t decrease. When he returned home to Canada, an ultrasound and biopsy confirmed his worst fears: cancer.

“It didn’t really hit for me at that time. The big moment for me was actually when I came home one night and my entire family was there,” Hamlin recalled in an interview with 3DownNation at the CFL Combine. “I’d taken off my sweater and some of them noticed the lump on my neck. Having to disclose it to the entire family, that was the hardest time. Seeing everyone in tears and understanding the changes that were gonna happen.”

The diagnosis felt like an inevitability from the lump’s first appearance but the most anxious moments would come when determining the nature of the disease. Two forms of blood cancer were a possibility, both Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The former has a significantly higher survival rate than the latter, leaving the family in the odd situation of praying for the right type of cancer.

In that way, Hamlin got lucky but he had a long road ahead for recovery. Unable to return to school at Colgate, he stayed home and began ABVD chemotherapy, a six-month-long treatment process which involved 12 different IV sessions. Each one would leave him feeling drained and drowsy, but he kept moving forward by relying on his college team’s internal philosophy: So What, Now What.

A guest speaker had imparted that message to the Raiders during the pandemic and it became universally adopted by the locker room.

“Basically it means this happened, but what are you going to do about it? You can sit there and you can dwell on something or you can take action,” Hamlin explained. “How are you going to react to a situation when something unfavourable is thrown in your direction? Are you going to pout? Are you going to sit down and just accept that this is what it is or are you going to get up and fight? Are you going to have the grit to get through?”

The young defensive back refused to let his diagnosis affect his daily life, picking up a job at a gym while undergoing treatment. Every day, he would show up early at 6:00 a.m. to get a workout in before the customer rush, staying in shape for his eventual return to the gridiron. Only on days with ABVD sessions did he allow himself the chance to rest, sleeping off the concoction of drugs being pumped into his system.

Fortunately, the treatment was a success and Hamlin was declared cancer-free in 2022. He would return to Madison County for his junior year, appearing in seven games. His first game back was on the road against Stanford but Hamlin says the magnitude of his return didn’t hit him when he was locked in and focused on competing against a Power Five program. It was the next week at the University of Maine where he was overcome with emotion, having collected seven tackles in a thrilling victory.

“We won on a missed field goal attempt, they were driving at the end of the game and they missed to tie it up,” he recalled, tears welling up in his eyes. “We won off that and I remember cheering with everyone then just having a moment, taking a knee and just enjoying everything. I’m having that moment still now.”

In the two years since his recovery, Hamlin has appeared in 17 games for the Raiders, making 53 tackles, one tackle for loss, seven pass breakups, and an interception. The five-foot-11, 186-pound safety has shown the ability to play from multiple alignments and cover man-to-man better than most at his position, making him a versatile CFL prospect with rare NCAA experience as a defensive back.

With his production and solid athletic measurables, Hamlin will be bound for a pro career this spring and has a chance to rise at the CFL Combine. After everything he went through to get here, that feels particularly sweet.

“It was tough getting that diagnosis but God gives his toughest battles to his toughest soldiers,” he said. “Other guys might not have been able to handle it the way I could have so I’m grateful that he put it on me and I’m grateful for the perspective that it gave me. I’m just ready to continue my story and continue being who I am.”

Hamlin credits his recovery to the support of his family, friends and teammates, but was buoyed by the stories of others. Through the Colgate alumni network, he was able to connect with a Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor named Marty Johnson shortly after his diagnosis, showing him that there was life and love possible after the disease.

Now that he is performing on a national stage, he knows that his story may also inspire others. While he’s not fully comfortable with the label of role model, Hamlin sees the value of hope within the community of those suffering.

“I knew I wasn’t the first and I knew I wasn’t going to be the last, I was just the latest in a long line of people getting tested by this battle,” he said. “If someone did look up to me like that, I would be completely honoured. If other people are looking at my situation and being like, ‘I can do this,’ then I want to tell them that you can get through it, one hundred percent.”

The 2024 CFL Draft is slated for Tuesday, April 30 at 8:00 p.m. EDT.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.