Hampton ready to move up to Navy's top spot

College football

April 11, 2006|By KENT BAKER | KENT BAKER,SUN REPORTER

Barring unforeseen complications - such as injury - he will march into the most visible and demanding position on the Navy football team next fall: starting quarterback.

He will be required to read defenses precisely and lead his fellow Midshipmen constantly, will receive abnormal amounts of praise and criticism from coaches and fans and stands a good chance of becoming the fourth straight senior quarterback under Paul Johnson to serve as a co-captain.

The limelight will be especially harsh next autumn because his predecessor, Lamar Owens, was charged with rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer after an alleged incident Jan. 29 at Bancroft Hall, the dormitory of all midshipmen.

But Brian Hampton stands ready - even eager - to confront the challenges and appears an ideal fit to inherit the duty.

"I love a leadership position," said Hampton, doing a bit of subtle campaigning. "I'm hoping to be a captain and believe I'd be a good candidate. But the offense is full of good candidates."

Captains are selected by the team after spring practice, which concludes April 21 with the spring game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Johnson likes the idea of the quarterback - particularly when he is a senior - being the captain of his intricate triple-option attack.

"Brian has always been a good leader. I've watched him on the sidelines since high school," said his father, Charles Hampton, who played defensive back at North Carolina.

"More than anything, he encourages teammates. I know when things are going well you always look across to the other side of the huddle to find the guys who are going to make a difference, pick you up. I think Brian is one of those guys who can step up to the plate."

However, effervescence only reaches so far. Hampton, a solid 5 feet 11, 203 pounds, also has talent, as evidenced by his 2005 performance behind Owens, often in trying situations when Navy was backed up to the shadow of its goal line.

He received considerable playing time when Owens was bothered by cramping early in the season and when Johnson became disenchanted with his starter, who was throwing interceptions. Hampton played in all 12 games last season, rushing for 160 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries and passing for 99 yards and one touchdown.

It wasn't always in mopup roles, either. He led a fourth-quarter scoring drive in a narrow loss to Stanford and a second-quarter touchdown march against Kent State and probably received more quality duty as a backup than any other No. 2 quarterback during the fruitful Johnson regime.

That efficiency has carried into the spring. In the first scrimmage, he battered a veteran No. 1 defensive unit by driving the offense 70 yards to scores on three consecutive possessions. In the second scrimmage, he played just one series in a driving rain because of shoulder soreness and marched the offense 69 yards to the 1 before the defense stopped the advance.

Johnson said Hampton is clearly No. 1 and every other aspirant - including Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, whom he promised a shot at quarterback - is No. 2.

Still, there is plenty of room for improvement.

Quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said Hampton has "pretty good [physical] tools. The thing has always been his mental side, learning how to manage the game, check to the right play. Not getting us beat and playing smart is going to be the important part."

"He can make some plays. He makes guys miss him. He's hard to tackle," said Johnson of Hampton. "He's doing some things OK and some others not so good."

Owens is assisting Hampton's conversion to the top role. Johnson said he is not going to ban his former starter because he has been accused of something, preferring to let the investigative process run its course.

Hampton welcomes the help.

"He's working with me on footwork, different drops, where to look for keys and on the emotional side of the game, making sure I keep my head up because anything I do my teammates will take to heart," said Hampton. "Normally, you take all that a little more heartfelt because he's been there. He's been my mentor."

Johnson vowed to "turn up the intensity" on Hampton to see how he handles it during the spring.

"I wouldn't say it's been more intense, but it's had more substance," said the player. "He's not spitting fire, but he'll be telling you what you are doing wrong and finding your weak spots and squeezing enough to make lemon juice. Even if I am No. 1, I'm still fighting for position."

Hampton's father left North Carolina, got married and spent 22 years in the Air Force, retiring last spring from Scott (Ill.) Air Force Base with the rank of master sergeant. Brian followed him far and wide. So why didn't he wind up at Colorado Springs?

"Navy called first," said Brian.

"He first looked at a lot of schools, really not thinking about the service area," said his father. "Air Force didn't take notice until late in the game. I really didn't think he'd go to an academy. But Coach Johnson was really up front with him and Brian always wanted to be an engineer. When he came back from Navy, he said he had found his place."

"I follow my father's routine, even to putting on my pants the same way before the game," the quarterback said. "He was at North Carolina when Michael Jordan and Lawrence Taylor were there and spent his career in the service. He has the perspective."

kent.baker@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.