Bulldogs on the lookout for new LBs

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
Linebackers have long been to the Hampton High football team what the Ferris Wheel is to the carnival ride and a bag of popcorn is to the movie theater: Symbols of great tradition.
In the history of their program, the Bulldogs have enjoyed a high level of prosperity as well as stability at the linebacker positions. When proven performers move on, it's generally known in advance what players are going to step in; and typically, new starters have already been groomed to immediately deliver positive results.
This year, however, things aren't so neatly packaged.
"Right now the kids we're using at linebacker have never played there before," said Hampton assistant coach Danny McClain, who calls the team's defensive signals. "We're kind of waiting to see what happens. We're looking forward to a scrimmage on Tuesday. That might show us a little more."
The 'Dogs will scrimmage at Johnson County this evening, a key step towards the team's season opener, at Cloudland, on Aug. 22.
Finding two linebackers that will come close to replacing the production of Jimmy Sarrett and Josh Nave, who combined for 342 tackles as the team's starting LBs the last two seasons, is certainly a daunting task for the coaching staff.
"That might be a grab bag," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell when asked who might be his starting linebackers this year. "We lost a lot of tackles."
Hampton has auditioned a host of players for the LB duties, and the list has been narrowed down to four individuals -- Sean Moody, Seth Clawson, Martin Winters and Jonathan Potter.
Moody is a senior whose 2002 season was ruined by injury, Clawson is a junior, and Winters and Potter are sophomores.
All four are solid football players, and out of the two that win starting jobs, McClain is hoping to find a take-charge guy.
"Hampton has always had that one good, stud linebacker," McClain said. "I don't know that we have that. I'm looking for one of these kids to step up. I'm not sure just who it's going to be."
According to McClain, Hampton will modify its defense a bit this year, which could aid the situation.
"The way we're going to run our defense, we don't necessarily need somebody who has a lot of speed," said McClain, "but rather a good, sure tackler."
Another potential stress reducer is the fact Hampton sports a talented defensive line.
"Hopefully, our defensive line is going to take some of the pressure off of our linebackers," McClain said. "I honestly believe our defensive line can come up with plays, whereas over the last few years our linebackers were coming up with plays."
Still, the 'Dogs need good LBs to make their defensive unit complete. Come Aug. 22, they'll lay those cards on the football table.
Retirement will just have to wait for Campbell, as the main man is back for year No. 36 as the Bulldog skipper.
That pleases a lot of people, including Hampton's senior quarterback, Mitchell Morton.
"(Not having him as coach) would be like losing a key player on the team," Morton said. "It just wouldn't be the same out there without him. I've had him for three years already, and he's the one I look up to the most. When a figure like that thinks about leaving you're not going to be happy, so we're very glad to have him back."
Campbell, who has contemplated retirement over the last two or so years, said the seed for his return was planted during the offseason.
"It's just a matter of you start working in the weight room with the boys," he said. "They're talking, you're talking and before you know it, you're back into it."
Although not likely to land a job in the starting lineup, junior Chris Morgan has distinguished himself as one of the team's most improved players during preseason practice.
Morgan adds quality depth to the defensive backfield and may have the tools to make a few catches as a substitute receiver.