PISCATAWAY, N.J. - Shedding the blocks of Big Ten offensive linemen as an undersize defensive tackle isn't the toughest thing Darius Hamilton has faced in his football career.

Instead, it's shedding the shadow of his father Keith, a New York Giants defensive lineman from 1992 to 2003.

Even as he became a five-star recruit and a top prospect in New Jersey, the high school all-American would still hear the nickname "Little Hammer," an homage to Keith's nickname "Hammer."

As Rutgers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) gets set to face North Carolina (6-6, 4-4 ACC) in the Quick Lane Bowl on Friday at Ford Field in Detroit, Hamilton has 24 starts under his belt. He helped anchor Rutgers' defensive line with five sacks and a team-leading 91/2 tackles for a loss.

The lone junior captain was named the defensive MVP at the team banquet. In his three years in Piscataway, he has made his mark in Rutgers' program.

"I think I'm working on it," Hamilton said when asked whether he has escaped his father's shadow.

"Obviously, it's always hard to carve your own name when you've got a father who's been so successful at the college level and at the next level, but I think I'm working on it," he said. "I definitely think I'm coming into my own."

His father has helped along the way.

"He always tells me we have a lot of similarities in our game when he watches the film, and I think that's a huge compliment coming from somebody who did it for so long," Hamilton said. "I'm just really excited about the way my career's shaping up."

It's one that won't end after the bowl game.

Instead of declaring for the NFL draft, Hamilton decided to return for his senior season. The Scarlet Knights can thank his father for that.

Despite wanting to become his own man with his own legacy apart from his father, Hamilton said he knows he wouldn't be where he is without his father's being there every step of the way as a parent, mentor, and friend.

"Words can't describe it - how valuable he's been," Darius Hamilton said. "Whether it's been as a little kid, playing high school going through my bumps and bruises, and coming in here and having all the accolades I had coming in here, just keeping me levelheaded, letting me know what I need to work on, what I don't need to work on, just doing whatever he can to make me a better player."

Hamilton says he's financially able to come back to school for his senior year in part because his dad played in the NFL. That will give him another year to bulk up his 6-foot-4, 255-pound frame.

More important, it gives him the ability to earn his degree. That is something his father stressed, telling his son the NFL will always be there, and if you're a good player, it'll find you.