By Parrish Alford
With the coming of C.J. Hampton, the Ole Miss football team will add a defensive back with strength and versatility – says a guy who ought to know.
Dexter McCleon won a Super Bowl with the Rams and played defensive back for 10 years in the NFL.
He’s been a volunteer assistant coach at Meridian High School, his alma mater, since 2008 and identified Hampton’s potential when Hampton was just a middle-schooler.
Hampton is an early enrollee at Ole Miss and will go through spring drills.
“He always hung with me, and I kept him with me around the older guys. There weren’t too many days off. The kid put in work from the time he was in the eighth grade all the way up until now,” McCleon said.
Hampton played both safety positions at Meridian and gave the Wildcats a big cornerback option in the Red Zone.
He played wide receiver or tight end in certain situations not for his athleticism but for his physicality.
“We would use him in blocking situations, because he’s such a strong kid,” McCleon said. “Any time we got in short-yardage situations or close to the end zone we’d put him at tight end or receiver. He has the ability to play both safeties, maybe linebacker in passing situations. He’s got a great work ethic. No matter where you put him he’ll do his best to do what you ask him to do.”
Rivals ranks him a four-star prospect, the No. 16 player nationally at his position and the No. 3 player in Mississippi.
Hampton may compete for early playing time, but the Rebels return both starting cornerbacks plus their top three safeties and will add talented Southern Miss transfer Anthony Alford.
A strong push from Alabama with a personal visit from coach Nick Saban caused Hampton, a long-time Ole Miss commit, to pause and consider the Tide.
He de-committed from Ole Miss briefly before reaffirming his pledge on on Dec. 20. Saban’s helicopter landing on the Meridian High School practice field created a stir in the city, which is closer to Tuscaloosa than Oxford.
McCleon thought Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze remained in good position to land Hampton even during the pre-Christmas drama.
“He’s always been an Ole Miss fan since back when we started working with him as a seven- and eighth-grader,” McCleon said. “After us going to a couple of seven-on-seven camps up there, Ole Miss was the first team to offer him in his junior year. The first school to offer you always makes an impression. You latch onto those schools, and when they stick with you from the beginning it’s kind of hard to let them go at the end.”