Jewel Hampton’s stint with the Salukis comes to a close as the transfer from Iowa decides to make a run to the NFL.
Hampton declared himself eligible for the NFL Draft Jan. 17 and signed with an agent, closing a one-year career at SIU where Hampton piled up 1,121 rushing yards and a Missouri Valley Conference-best 17 touchdowns.
A message left with Hampton was not returned Wednesday, but he said in a press release NFL Draft evaluators told him he could land between the fourth and seventh round when he filed.
“I had to follow my heart,” Hampton said in the press release. “It’s hard to leave a place like Carbondale, where I have so many footholds now, but I need to follow my dream.
Hampton transferred to SIUC from Iowa, where he set the freshman touchdown record in 2008 with seven. Two ACL surgeries kept him off the field, and by the end of the 2010 season, Hampton was on his way to Carbondale.
“We knew we were getting someone that was potentially special,” running backs coach Steve Crutchley said. “It was an exciting time, especially since we knew we had a good chance to get him.”
Crutchley said assistant coach John Steger had a relationship with Hampton’s high school coach from Warren Central in Indianapolis, and that helped Hampton land at SIUC.
Hampton didn’t come to the university until after Spring Break 2011, and he was still recovering from his second knee surgery. Crutchley said they brought Hampton along slowly in the summer and fall camps, in case Hampton’s knees weren’t fully healed.
“You’ve got to be smart, and you’ve got to be cautious,” Crutchley said. “Anytime somebody has an injury, you don’t want to just throw him back to the wolves and let him get hurt again. That just doesn’t make sense.”
The Salukis already had two running backs with experience, Steve Strother and Shariff Harris, in the backfield for the 2011 season. The two combined for 1,101 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010.
“That’s the key at the running back position. When you have some talent, you want to make sure you play a few guys so you can stay strong all year,” Crutchley said.
Hampton split carries with Strother, Harris and Mulku Kalokoh in the first two games of the season against Southeast Missouri State and Ole Miss, but rushed for 119 yards on 21 carries Sept. 24 in the 20-18 victory over Missouri State.
The game was the first of six 100 yard rushing games for Hampton in the 2011 season.
“We could’ve started him day one if we wanted to. He definitely had the ability,” Crutchley said. “We have some good backs here, and we wanted to keep (Hampton) healthy.”
Once Hampton started to show the coaches his knees were healthy enough, offensive coordinator Kalen DeBoer said they put more and more pressure on him.
“Every week he had more and more carries. The first two or three weeks, we slowly upped the numbers and he seemed pretty comfortable with that,” DeBoer said. “Life got tougher for everyone when we had to switch quarterbacks, and we had some injuries upfront at the guard positions, and that made Jewel’s job even tougher.”
But now the Salukis have to face life without Hampton, and it seems as though they’ve moved on. Strother is back for his senior year and DeBoer said Kalokoh will see time in the backfield as well.
Younger brother of Saluki thrower Jeneva McCall and former Iowa running back Mika’il McCall, along with former Indiana running back Antonio Banks, verbally committed to SIU, although the coaches declined to comment on the status of their recruits.
“I think we’d have guessed (Hampton) would probably stick around, but we certainly understand his opportunity,” DeBoer said. “Jewel’s leaving, and we have a good stable of backs returning as well as some more coming in to our program that we’re excited about. We just move on and work around the talent we have.”
DeBoer said he thinks Hampton’s physical style will translate well into the NFL, and that his all-business attitude on the field will help him succeed.
“He gave us a lot of hard yards. He was over 1,100 yards, and there wasn’t too many of them that were easy,” DeBoer said. “He was a pleasure to be around. I enjoyed his attitude; it was pretty serious stuff when he stepped onto the football field.”
The NFL Draft starts Thursday, April 26.