Hampton hopes  bolstered by LBs

By Jamie Combs
SPORTS EDITOR
jcombs@starhq.com

   While taking on Hampton's defense this year doesn't figure to be a big bed of roses, don't be surprised if a bountiful crew of Bulldog linebackers plant plenty of thorns in the opposition's best-laid plans.
   "The defense is kind of like a bunch of boys wanting to hit somebody," said Hampton head coach J.C. Campbell. "You can fundamental them to death, but if they don't want to hit anybody you won't get a thing done. We feel like we've got some pretty decent linebackers."
   Capable and experienced, the linebacking unit forms the heart of this year's Bulldog defense. Well-stocked at the position, Campbell is hoping to install a scheme that places five linebackers on the field at the same time.
   "They can run to the ball," said Campbell when asked what would be advantageous to such a strategy. "They're not kind of stationed up there at end. They can make plays over in the middle if they need to. They can back up and knock a pass down, back up and cover the flats, and rush."
   Spearheading the Bulldog linebacking corps are the No. 1 and No. 3 tacklers from a year ago, Jimmy Sarrett (88 tackles) and Josh Nave (77); as well as senior Pat Murphey, who showed a lot of feistiness last season at defensive end.
   Up-and-coming Donny Singleton is making his bid for a starting job, while three fixtures of the Hampton secondary -- Justin Waycaster, senior Corey McKinney and Mitchell Morton -- are candidates to move closer to the line of scrimmage.
   Sarrett, counted on to thwart the inside running game, sounds optimistic about the team's linebacker-oriented system.
   "I think it's going to work out well," said Sarrett. "It could be hard to run against us this year. We all do a good job of working together."
   According to Campbell, spreading linebackers across the field should strengthen the 'Dogs' resistance against the outside runs.
   "It would probably be tougher to run wide and tougher to finesse us in that (formation)," he said. "Now if we get overpowered, we'll make some adjustments."
   Campbell can only hope that the lack of a large, athletic defensive end on this year's squad won't create too much of a detriment to the Bulldog cause.
   "We just don't have anybody in that category -- somebody who can run well enough to be a defensive end and take on the fullbacks and big ends," said the Hampton skipper.
   Still, with what ought to be a more-than-respectable line and secondary in place, the 'Dogs' chances of having a quality year on the defensive side of the football appear better than average.
   Take away their two meetings with Cloudland, in which they allowed a combined total of 76 points, the Bulldogs gave up an average of 11.4 points a game last season, holding all but South Greene under the 20-point barrier.
   "That gives us a lot to build on for this year," Sarrett said. "Those two Cloudland games last year were really the only bad things we had going against us. Other than that, we stood pretty strong."
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   A key addition to this year's coaching staff is former Bulldog player Jeff Bradley, who joins the program after spending the last several seasons at Cloudland.
   Bradley, a good player for the 'Dogs during the mid-1980s, certainly appreciates the opportunity to be at Hampton.
   "I love it here," said Bradley, who served as an assistant football coach and as head baseball coach for the Highlanders. "I knew I was going to like it, but I didn't know I'd love it as much as I do.
   "I had a good time at Cloudland and learned a lot up there. It was a good experience, but there's nothing like home."
   While Bradley said that a new set of challenges and circumstances is a bit rejuvenating, he values the role of working under a high school coaching legend.
   "It's an opportunity to work under somebody else and learn different schemes and stuff," said Bradley. "I don't think that a coach ever stops learning. To get an opportunity to work under somebody like J.C. is hard to pass up."
   Bradley will also coach baseball, assisting Hampton head coach Scotty Bunton.
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   One of the top assistants in the area during his many years at Hampton, Doug Phillips is using some of his retirement time to give the team a helping hand this season. His knowledge of the game, particularly on defense and line play, can only improve the Bulldog outlook.
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   On the injury front, Nave (shoulder) and sophomore lineman Seth Clawson (broken hand) have missed a few days of practice, but should be back on the field this coming week.
   Clawson was beginning to make a favorable impression on his coaches before he got hurt.
   "Seth was coming along," Campbell said. "He was improving every day and just starting to get comfortable in there."
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   Hampton will host a scrimmage this Tuesday night vs. Sullivan East. Action begins at 7.