In 19 years as a coach in the college football ranks, Chris Ash groomed plenty of players into success stories.
Nine months into his roster analysis at Rutgers, Ash sees potential for another one in his starting free safety.
“(Saquan) Hampton, I think, has got a chance to be an absolute star,” Ash said. “I've been around some really good safeties in my career. Hampton's got three years to play still. I think he's got a chance to be really good. I'm very excited about him.”
Hampton hears that message all the time.
“They tell me each and every day as long as I stay focused that I can be a really good player,” he said. “(Defensive backs) coach (Bill) Busch is always on me, so we talk each and every day about what I need to do to be a good player.”
After a spring where he earned most-improved defensive player honors under Kyle Flood, Hampton grew his role later during the season Between special teams and a start at safety in 12 games, Hampton posted 28 tackles and an interception to cap his redshirt-freshman season in 2015.
As senior Anthony Cioffi transitions to strong safety, Hampton has a clear lane to start at free safety. But to get to this point, he said, he sharpened his speed on the field and attentiveness in the playbook.
“Being a younger guy, I noticed that I have to pay attention to all the details,” Hampton said. “The playbook, you’ve got to pay much more attention to your opponent as well. So this year, I came in doing that and I’m able to play a lot more faster than I have.”
Hampton, who said he shot up six pounds since the spring, acknowledged the general challenges that came with the defensive scheme when the staff first came aboard. But as time passed, he nailed and the secondary as a whole nailed the concepts down.
“In the beginning, it was much more difficult because we were learning a new defense,” Hampton said. “But we’re all right now, we’re playing a lot faster than we’ve ever been playing and we’re flying around. That’s most important from what coach Ash wants to see.”
As it relates to Hampton, Busch sees what Ash sees. At 6-foot-1 and up to 207 pounds, Hampton fits the billing for what Busch said the defense needs at safety.
“The No. 1 reason (is) because of how he works, so that’s the thing that jumps out the most,” Busch said. “… So he tackles extremely well and very violently in the tackling and he gets to be really fast. He wants to fight really fast and he can cover ground.”
While the press-man coverage largely centers on man-to-man duties of the cornerbacks, things also change in the second level at safety. Hampton addressed his adaptation to the new scheme at his position with a fresh focus on his approach to the pass game.
“What changes with me is I’m matching routes more aggressively than I was in the past,” he said. “I’m not just off in the zone — I’m in man coverage, too. So it’s a lot of man coverage.”
As the responsibilities increase, the expectations come with them. Outside of Cioffi, Hampton is one of three sophomores projected to start in the secondary along with last year’s corner combo of Blessuan Austin and Isaiah Wharton.
To Hampton, the maturity starts now.
“I look at myself as having to be able to step up,” he said. “Like I said, we’re not young anymore. We’re old now, so we all have to be able to help each other out and play, do our job.”
|2015||12||24||4||28||--||1 / 4||--||--||2||1 / 0|
|TOTAL||12||24||4||28||--||1 / 4||--||--||2||1 / 0|