- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 20, 2006

Brian Hampton did not spend a lot of time in one place when he was growing up.

His father, Charles, spent 22 years in the Air Force, and the family moved around a lot. From Wyoming to Guam, Hawaii to Los Angeles and Ohio to finally Illinois, Hampton spent all but the final two years of high school living on various Air Force bases.

“It was an experience for him,” Charles Hampton said. “It gave him the opportunity to meet a lot of people and experience a lot of different cultures. A negative part was that we weren’t always near other family members. I think it was an advantage for him, though, because I think he relates well and communicates well with people.”

Said Hampton: “I was your typical little Air Force brat.”

Once he made the decision to continue his college football career at Navy, change remained a constant. Recruited to play quarterback, he shifted to slot back during his freshman season. He earned playing time by returning kicks.

Now Hampton enters his final season at the academy, with one more metamorphosis to complete. Hampton is settling in as the starting quarterback and point man for the Midshipmen’s triple option attack.

“I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time. I’ve always wanted to lead the team out onto the field,” Hampton said. “Coming off last season, I was thinking, ‘This is my turn. It is my opportunity to lead this team in the direction I want them to go.’”

Coach Paul Johnson’s offenses have lit up the scoreboard since he revived the floundering program. This team boasts as impressive an arsenal of talented skill players as Johnson has had in the past four seasons. How this potentially high-octane offense succeeds or fails rests not only with Hampton’s strong arm or equally stout legs, but maybe most importantly with his mind.

Decision-making, first and foremost by the quarterback, is the key for the Mids. If Hampton makes the correct reads and the ball is placed in the right hands, there could be an offensive juggernaut in Annapolis this fall, one that could challenge the program’s modern record for points (410), set last season. If not, the offense could struggle.

“He is still making some of the same mistakes. It is not where I hoped it would be, but we’ve got a lot work left,” quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper said early in preseason camp. “He has earned his chance to do it, and the way I see it, it is my job to get him ready.”

Hampton can easily throw the ball as far as, or farther than, any of his three predecessors — Craig Candeto, Aaron Polanco and Lamar Owens. Whether he can be as accurate as Polanco remains to be seen.

His physique is more sculpted than the aforementioned three. Hampton bench presses in excess of 300 pounds and, combined with his powerful legs, makes him a tough to bring down. Jasper compared his running style not to any of the recent quarterbacks, but record-setting Chris McCoy, who piloted the offense in the mid-1990s.

During a hurry-up offense drill last week, Hampton’s flashes of brilliance and futility came just moments apart. On one drive, Hampton connected on a couple of passes and marched the offense down the field. The highlight was when he took off into the middle of the defense, easily juking past two defenders and running right through an attempted tackle by inside linebacker Rob Caldwell.

The next drive did not go as well. Hampton earned a profanity-laced earful from Johnson after taking a sack on third down, and then held the ball too long again on fourth down and his pass was batted down.

“When you take a sack in a one-minute drill, you aren’t exactly being a rocket scientist,” Johnson said afterward.

Hampton and the first-team offense moved the ball with efficiency and without turnovers during the first scrimmage of the fall Aug. 12. The unit also played well in the team’s second scrimmage yesterday.

Johnson has been pleased with Hampton’s progress more often than not. He’s also not ready to draw any comparisons to Candeto, Polanco or Owens.

“I thought Brian did OK,” Johnson said. “He made a really bad throw on his interception and he missed a check or two, but he’s getting there. He also made some really good throws too.

“I don’t know how you can compare [Hampton to the previous quarterbacks]. Let’s let him play a few games before you compare him to guys that have played. He hasn’t been a starter and played one whole game yet, so I am not ready to compare him to guys that led their teams to bowl games. That is not fair to him.”

Hampton has more game experience at quarterback than Owens did before he took the job full-time last season. Because Owens struggled with hand cramps early in the season, Hampton took snaps in meaningful situations, not just in mop-up duty.

He ran for 160 yards and two scores, while completing six of 19 passes for 99 yards, including a touchdown pass against Notre Dame. Ten of those attempts came against Stanford with Navy behind and forced to throw on nearly every play.

“It helped me a lot to get some experience,” Hampton said. “The first game I was telling everybody it was an eye-opening experience. Don’t get me wrong, my mind wasn’t somewhere else, but I was shell-shocked. I was praying to God that the camera wasn’t looking at my eyes.

“It all comes down to decision making. I have the tools to go ahead and do what we need to do out here on offense, but I just need to make better decisions and the offense will succeed.”

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