By Scott Hood, GamecockCentral.com
Celebrating 15 years of GamecockCentral.com
Since arriving at South Carolina in early February 2012, secondary coach Grady Brown detects the narrative surrounding cornerback Victor Hampton has changed dramatically.
Once perceived as a troubled young player possessing heaps of unfulfilled potential, Hampton is now viewed as one of the top cornerbacks in the SEC and a promising NFL prospect.
The transformation has been sweeping, coming as close to 180 degrees as you can get without actually saying it.
"The topic of conversation when his name comes up," Brown replied when asked about the biggest difference he sees in Hampton over the past 18 months.
"Obviously, I wasn't here for much of the troubled days that hit the media," Brown said. "Most of the time now, when (the media) asks me about Victor, it's about how well he's playing and the good decisions that he is making and things of that nature. If he stays on the right track, I think he will have a successful future."
When Hampton joined USC in 2010 as the second highest-rated prospect in that year's heralded signing class (Marcus Lattimore was No. 1) for the Gamecocks, the consensus pointed towards Hampton, who attended four different high schools, being a hit-or-miss player, nothing in-between.
Either he was going to flourish or flame out.
More than a few people, including a former coach, doubted it would be the former. Turns out, they were wrong.
Hampton's college career was just about sidetracked following his redshirt season in 2010, but a second chance from Steve Spurrier after he was briefly dismissed from the team in June 2011 proved to be the scare Hampton needed.
Hampton's journey has been far from trouble-free, but it has taught him valuable, life-long lessons.
"It just goes to show that when you're faced with adversity, it's not about the adversity, but about how you decide to handle it," Hampton said recently. "Handling all the adversity made me whom I am today. A lot of people out there didn't think I would be here. But thank you because it was a lot of motivation.
"I'm real comfortable where I am in this program as a leader and just knowing the playbook. I'm ready to go, come out every day and work and try to lead by example."
After sitting out the first three games in 2011 for academic reasons, Hampton has transformed into a model football player, teammate and student.
How far as Hampton actually come? He has captured the Everyday Attitude Award in spring practice for two consecutive years, an unthinkable achievement four years ago when he left Darlington High School.
"He's done very well. He's come around," Spurrier said recently of Hampton. "He had his moments years back and so forth, but he's come around and he's a good teammate now. Hopefully, that will go all the way until he leaves here and hopefully he's going to get a chance to play some pro football."
Known as a physical cornerback and USC's best cover corner, Hampton started 12 games and was credited with 40 tackles, one interception and six pass breakups last season. His pick came in the final minute of the 38-35 win over Tennessee at Williams-Brice Stadium, sealing USC's third straight victory over the Vols.
This year, he's looking for even better numbers.
"I'm just working on the small things in my game," Hampton said. "Hopefully, I'll be able to move around on defense and show I can do more than just corner. I think can play nickel or cover the slot guy."
As long as he avoids injuries, Hampton is a virtual lock to start at boundary corner in 2013 and be involved as a punt and kickoff returner as well.
"The gifts that God has given him," Brown said when asked what makes Hampton a perfect fit at boundary corner. "Speed, quickness, explosiveness, great hands, toughness, great hips. Anything you can think of that really good corners have from an athletic standpoint, he has it.
"He has been blessed with those abilities and it's my job to enhance those abilities and those attributes. But he has the core talent to be a really good one."
While his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the fastest players on the Gamecocks, Hampton's speed is better than most people think, Brown said.
"Victor Hampton is really fast," Brown exclaimed. "Minus Damiere Byrd, who is world class, he would be in the conversation for being one of the fastest players on the team."
Hampton has been penciled in as the successor to Ace Sanders as punt returner, but first must beat out a number of challengers in preseason camp.
"Ace did a great job, but I would imagine Victor will have his opportunity to return punts this year," Brown said. "He and I have talked about taking advantage of all the opportunities he will have this year. That's why it's such a pleasure to have him around. If all goes well, I easily see him going back on punt returns and kick returns and being special with the ball in his hands."
Hampton fielded two punts last year, but believes he learned a lot watching Sanders, as fearless any player that has come through the Gamecock program.
"That's definitely something I want to do," Hampton said. "Right now, I believe it's my job, but I have to catch the ball and show the coaches that they can trust me back there. With Ace gone, we can't have a fall off. I have to be the guy that steps in and still have that type of game-changing ability at punt return."
Ironically, Hampton's career could have taken a different path had things been different. He initially committed to Florida, but decommitted and eventually signed with USC. Hampton is thankful everything happened the way it did.
"I think it was in God's plans. It was a just a situation that happened with Florida," Hampton said. "South Carolina fell into my hands. Coach Spurrier and Coach (Lorenzo) Ward gave me a chance to come here and the rest is history. I'm just trying to make a name for myself in a positive way before I leave here."
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