De'Quan Hampton couldn’t stand it. He didn’t feel right. He didn’t look right. It just wasn’t befitting for him.
The senior wide receiver went to new head coach Clay Helton and said he needed a change.
“’Hey Coach, get me out of this 89 [jersey]. I want that [No.] 13.' He was like 'I'll think about it. We'll see how you do in spring.’”
Hampton already knew he was going to have to prove himself in the spring after catching only 15 passes for 165 yards in his first season as a USC Trojan. Now he had extra motivation to showcase his talents, but Helton in a show of his faith in the Long Beach City College transfer surprised Hampton.
"Next thing you know, I just walked to my locker and it's right there. I was like 'Yea. Got my number!'" Hampton said. “I'm out of that nasty 89 and in the swaggy 13. Don't I look better? I know I look better. It just feels better too.”
Look good. Check. Feel good. Check. Play good? Early signs point toward a third check mark.
The number and a second-year under receivers coach (and now offensive coordinator) Tee Martin has Hampton playing with more confidence.
“Everything right now is going good,” Hampton said. “Way more comfortable than last year. Playing way more faster. Feel better and I'm just getting it down -- all the new installs, all the new things we have to learn — getting it down and learning and adapting way faster than usual.”
The 6-foot-4, 220-pound receiver said the top thing he has to show the coaching staff is consistency…in all aspects: catching, route running, blocking and knowledge of the playbook.
“I just need to let them know and I have to make them feel that they can trust me that I know what I'm doing and they don't have to worry about me.”
In the most recent practices, Hampton has earned first team snaps while star wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. For Hampton, Smith-Schuster’s absence is a “huge opportunity.”
“It just gives me the opportunity to show the coaches what I can do, what I’ve always been able to do. I just have to take the advantage I have at the time.”
Hampton is following in the footsteps of another No. 13. That’s the number Chris Matthews wore with the Seattle Seahawks when he nearly came out of nowhere to win the Super Bowl XLIX MVP award despite never having an NFL regular season reception.
Hampton wanted the No. 13 in part because of Matthews — another junior college receiver that blossomed under Martin’s tutelage and who also talked with the Trojan receivers last spring.
Matthews played for Martin at Kentucky, teaming with Randall Cobb to give the Wildcats a lethal outside-inside 1-2 punch at the receiver position. In 2010, Matthews led the SEC in touchdown catches while Cobb led the conference in all-purpose yards.
Martin sees similarities in Matthews and Hampton — both big-bodied wideouts.
“Chris had his dog in him. Very physical big guy, but could move like a little guy,” Martin said. “De'Quan is one of the better release guys that we have, route runners.
“He's a 6-4, 220-pound guy that moves like he's 5-10, 185. That's rare and Chris was rare. Both of them are very similar and I'm just looking forward to De'Quan continuing to develop.”
Matthews transferred from LA Harbor College as one of the top junior college wideouts in the country, but like Hampton didn’t find immediate success when he got to the foreign land of Lexington, Kent. It took Matthews time to get used to the rural Kentucky lifestyle as a Los Angeles native, but once he gained a much better grasp of the playbook in his second season, he was able to ball out.
He became an impact receiver, particularly in the red zone where he was able to make contested catches the norm. He had a two-touchdown performance against Florida and future NFL cornerback Janoris Jenkins and then had a career-high 12 catches against No. 10 South Carolina.
Could Hampton see a similar breakthrough in his second season? Martin believes the ability is there.
“He could, especially with other weapons around him emerging,” Martin said. “With JuJu and other guys around a guy like De'Quan, I could see that very well happening.”
“He's having a great spring so far. I'm just looking forward to him continuing. He finished the season really strong last season too. I think he's really confident in how he's developed since he's been here and I'm excited about the future with him.”