A switch from safety to outside linebacker before his senior season turned out to be a good move for the Kell standout, and it also worked in favor of the Longhorns. Once Hampton started playing the new position, he became a tackling machine and made it difficult for opposing tailbacks to find space.
Hampton finished with 190 tackles on the season, with 121 solo. He averaged 13.6 tackles a game, forced two fumbles and made an interception.
That was impressive enough for Hampton to be named Class AAAAA Defensive Player of the Year by the Georgia Sports Writers Association.
The 6-foot, 180-pound Hampton became the third Kell player in four years to win the defensive honor, joining two players now playing in the Southeastern Conference — Tennessee’s Brian Randolph (2010) and Georgia’s Brendan Langley (2012).
In all, four Kell standouts have won a player of the year award. Jonathan Dwyer, a former Georgia Tech standout now playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, was named Class AAAAA’s top offensive player in 2006.
“It’s exciting,” Hampton said of the award. “I didn’t think I would get it honestly.”
Hampton’s tenacity on the defensive side of the ball helped Kell finish the 2013 regular season with a perfect record and clinch the Longhorns a Region 7AAAAA title before they made school history with a state semifinal appearance.
The award should bode well for Hampton’s future.
He hasn’t committed anywhere, but playing college football shouldn’t be an issue. He’s gotten interest from Mercer, Georgia State, Georgia Southern, The Citadel and Kennesaw State.
As a safety, Hampton had more time to see a play develop. As a linebacker, he had to respond quicker, and he had the quickness to make plays behind or around the line of scrimmage.
In Kell’s third game of the season against east Cobb rival Lassiter, Hampton really found his niche. He recorded 20 tackles, en route to a 35-20 victory.
“I was more comfortable in that game,” Hampton said. “Ever since then, I got comfortable with the position.”
Hampton was so comfortable, in fact, that he was already at 89 tackles at the season’s halfway point.
“We needed a physical guy in the box that had ball skills,” Kell coach Derek Cook said, “so we moved him down to linebacker and Darian Harris from corner to safety. As a linebacker, the ball is in your face just about every play, and as a safety, you have more time to react. He has a learning curve that’s pretty impressive.”
Cook can’t remember Hampton ever having a bad game this season. He was consistent in posting double-figure tackling numbers every week.
Another of Hampton’s better showings came in the state quarterfinals, when Kell beat Warner Robins 52-28. He finished with 16 tackles against the Demons, and his first-quarter interception set up the first of Kell’s many touchdowns.
With a successful season behind him, Hampton is now focusing on the next step, a college destination. He’s lifting weights five days a week to add muscle, and he will run track in the spring to improve his speed.