Bears Find the Superman in Hampton
This story originally appeared in Cal's Kickoff Game Progam on Nov. 3, 2007.
By Dean Caparaz, Cal '90
Last season as California's starting rover, or strong safety, Hampton wore a blue Superman T-shirt after games. This season, a la former Cal star Aaron Rodgers and his Joe Montana T-shirt, Hampton wears his Superman shirt under his uniform during games. He also writes the comic-book creation's 'S' logo on his gloves. Coincidentally, Hampton's play has bordered on the heroic the past two years.
But the senior cornerback battled through adversity before earning the fanfare he now receives.
The Los Angeles product had a slow start to his Cal career, which early on resembled that of Clark Kent more than that of his favorite hero. Hampton redshirted as a walk-on running back for the Golden Bears in 2003 after running for more than 1,600 yards at Westchester High School.
Hampton admits he had a difficult time with life as a walk-on. 'I wasn't very humble, I was selfish and I didn't know what hard work meant,' he said. 'Everything had always come easy to me. But I really had to keep a level head, and I matured through the process.'
He changed his tune at Cal after he received encouragement from the Bears' coaching staff and his brother, Chris Waddell, a former Washington player. In large part he credits his family and God for his success. 'They say it takes a village to raise a child,' Hampton said. 'I have a good village behind me.'
His new attitude and versatile skills combined with an abundance of talented running backs at Cal sent Hampton in a new direction. 'When I came in, it was a few older running backs and me, and then they signed Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch,' he said. 'While I was playing on the scout team, coach J.D. [Williams, Cal's former secondary coach] and coach [Bob] Gregory [Cal's defensive coordinator] were saying `He's a good athlete. We should try him on defense.' That's when I switched over to defense. A year later, I finally got a scholarship.'
Now a hard-working, speedy player, Hampton played on special teams in eight games in 2004 and played 11 games as a defensive back in 2005. One of his favorite moments at Cal came when he was a sophomore in 2005, when he returned his first career interception 22 yards against Oregon in Eugene. In 2006, Hampton replaced former Cal star Donnie McCleskey at rover and excelled, making 63 tackles to rank fourth on the team, grabbing a pair of picks and recording one sack.
When the 2007 Bears needed someone to fill the void left by the departure of 2006 Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year Daymeion Hughes, and with a healthy Thomas DeCoud back at free safety and last year's free safety Bernard Hicks able to start at rover, Hampton again stepped up, becoming the starting corner opposite Syd'Quan Thompson. Hampton, who also played corner and safety in high school, contributed right away, pacing the Bears with 11 tackles in the 45-31 season-opening win over Tennessee.
Hampton has continued to have a productive final year. Heading into last weekend's game with Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz., he led Cal with two interceptions, recorded his first forced fumble against Oregon State and added a fumble recovery against UCLA. Through the first seven games, Hampton ranked sixth at Cal with 33 total tackles, including 24 solo and nine assisted tackles.
'I'm real happy with how things have been going,' Hampton said. 'The change to corner has been a good change. I feel like I'm still able to help the team. It's a fun position. I like it.'
A key part of Hampton's game is his speed. He was a sprinter in high school, running the 100, 200 and 400 for the Westchester track team, and competed for the Cal track team the past two years. Hampton ran a lifetime-best 7.07 seconds in the 60-meter dash last February and ran on Cal's fastest 4x100-meter relay with Forsett and Lynch in 2006.
That speed might help Hampton reach the next level. Hampton believes he has a shot to play in the NFL, though the 193-pound DB may be undersized at 5-10. 'That's been a dream of mine,' he said. 'I'm a bit small, but, hey, nobody's perfect.'
A fifth-year senior, Hampton walked through graduation for his interdisciplinary studies major last spring and will finish up at Cal at the end of the current semester. Whenever his football career is over, Hampton hopes to pursue a myriad of careers. If he isn't making the world a safer place - 'I've always had a passion for that type of FBI-, CIA-type of work' - or becoming a pilot, the aspiring entrepreneur may try starting up his own business. Or he might found a school to give back to the L.A. community and the 'village' that made him.
Quite a change from the Brandon Hampton that first arrived at Cal. 'I came here as a boy,' he said, 'but I'm leaving a man.'