"I want to talk about Idaho."
That's a great text to get first thing in the morning regardless of who it comes from, but it's particularly intriguing when it's from one of the key signees of Idaho's 2014 football recruiting class. In this case, the message came from 6-foot-5, 320-pound mountainous defensive tackle prospect Alfonso Hampton.
The Vandals put a premium on fortifying the defensive line with this most recent recruiting cycle, and emphasized immediate impact players from the junior college ranks.
On the interior defensive line, recruits Max Martial (6-3, 318) and Glen Antoine (6-1, 340) are already on campus and are coming off their first spring camp with the Vandals. Martial, in particular, saw extensive playing time throughout camp while Antoine nursed an injury (he is expected to make a full recovery and battle for playing time this fall).
The arrival of Hampton on the Idaho campus, ranked the No.9 JC recruit in the nation per ESPN with multiple scholarship offers who has already made the 2014 Phil Steele preseason All-Sunbelt 4th team defense despite not having played a down yet, is expected later this month.
Although he signed a National Letter of Intent with Idaho back in February, he's still getting calls from recruiters. Such is life for a raw talent with the potential he brings to the gridiron. "I'm sticking with the Vandals!" Hampton said via text, reiterating that his commitment to Idaho and coach Paul Petrino remains solid.
WITH SUMMER WORKOUTS RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER, the question on the minds of many Vandal fans is, 'When will the big DT arrive?'
The response below should excite just about everyone associated with the Idaho program.
"I'm just about finished up," Hampton told GoVandals.net this week. "I'll be out there on the 21st of this month [June] for the second part of summer training. I'm just about done. I have an on-line course that will finish up on the 16th, but as far as Southwestern College I'm completely done."
With the status question answered, we took the opportunity to make up for some lost time and talked to Hampton about his decision to pick Idaho over the multitude of other offers and interested programs. "For me it was the coaching staff and the players that I was able to meet," Hampton said. "I didn't get to meet the whole team, but I met a few them.
"On my visit it was a relaxed environment. It was a lot different than what I'm used to living here in San Diego; their weren't as many distractions. It would give me a chance to focus on my craft, become a better football player, and focus on school.
"But the deciding factor was the coaching staff. All of them. When I was on my visit it was respectful, but it was also like I was hanging out with my teammates."
We weren't exactly sure who was leading the recruiting charge for the standout defensive tackle, but the answer was a bit surprising -- not so much because of who the coach was, but the position he coaches at Idaho. "It was the quarterbacks coach, Bryce Erickson," Alfonso said. "He did a good job with it because he came out when the recruiting was at its peak. He came out and he built a relationship with me before he started pushing the recruiting part of it."
The recruiting process can be hectic for anyone. But for an athlete who had never played football at all prior to junior college, and without a lot of prep going into the process, it was heavy at times. "Not playing football before, I didn't know what to expect. A lot of schools had their hands in the pot. But once I figured out my options and what the schools were – some schools were in the whole time, and some were on and off. It was about trying to remember 60 different schools and coaches names, and not wanting to blow anyone off because you never know what coach was going to be at what school.
"It was distracting [early in the season]. But I had a sit-down with one of my coaches and he said to focus on my season and let things take care of themselves. I was able to go out there and play football and let recruiting subside till the season was over. It was a lot of back-and-forth.
"But after I took the Idaho trip I knew where I wanted to go after that, and I didn't go on any other visits."Hampton's first offer came from New Mexico, and once that offer came in numerous other programs offered, including Idaho. At the end he held several offers including Texas State, Middle Tennessee, UNLV, Temple and others.
The future Public Relations major was hosted on his trip to Moscow by wide receiver Dezmon Epps. "He was a cool dude," Hampton said. "We have a lot in common. Plus he's from San Francisco too."
Shortly after the official visit Hampton made his decision official.
"I committed a week after the visit. I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to go, but I wanted to take a week to figure out that it was for sure what I wanted to do. Once Coach Petrino and Coach Erickson came out to do an in-house visit after that, it was pretty much that I committed right then and there."
WITH HAMPTON SET TO ARRIVE IN JUNE and the recruiting process over, the focus now shifts to Idaho's defensive front this fall. Not surprisingly, Hampton has no intention of redshirting and has his sights set on the challenge of battling for immediate playing time. Also not surprisingly, his focus will be on the interior defensive line with the Vandals.
"I haven't heard anything other than keeping me in the middle," Hampton said. "I'll just keep doing the same thing I was doing at Southwestern. I don't think I'm going to change to the outside or anything like that. We ran a 4-front, but it was a shifting front with the defense; the nose and tackle shifted back and forth. So it won't be much of a transition for me."
One of the most appealing aspects of the Idaho defense Hampton will join is not just the similarity to what he ran before, but the way Idaho wants to create havoc from a scheme standpoint. "They run a 4-front defense too, which is one of the things I wanted. That's what I was used to and what I like. But it was the way they utilize their linebackers too – the schemes that they were coming up with could throw a lot of teams off."
The talent returning to the Idaho defensive front was also appealing. With senior Quayshawne Buckley getting another year of eligibility, coupled with returning standouts from last year's D in Ryan Edwards and Tueni Lupeamanu, expectations in the gem state are growing."That was a big part of it too," Hampton said regarding what he liked about Idaho's returning team and the direction Petrino has it headed. "I got to look at who was still there and who was leaving. Plus I talked to one my friends who played at Southwestern who got picked up by Idaho as well, Aaron Lazaro. I had a talk with him and he liked it. It was good to get it from a player's perspective, what it was really like. And it was the same thing as what everyone else was saying."
Combined with Idaho's returning talent at both defensive end positions this fall, the Vandals should have one of their most formidable defensive front lines in years.