LSU baseball media day

LSU baseball sophomore outfielder Maurice Hampton Jr. (14) rests in the dugout Friday, Jan. 29, 2021 during baseball white vs. gold media day at Alex Box Stadium on Gourrier Avenue in Baton Rouge, La.

As the clock in the Mercedes Benz Superdome hit triple zeros and the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship game came to an end, the scoreboard read: LSU 42 Clemson 35. The Tigers were champions, having capped off a perfect season with an emphatic double-digit win over the next best team, and did it in their home state. To freshman safety Maurice Hampton, the moment was a once in a lifetime experience and one he’ll never forget. 

“Excitement and joy,” is what he felt in the moment. “Seeing the confetti fall in New Orleans, It’s one of the best moments of my life.”

Over the next few days, Hampton and his teammates would make a trip to the White House, tradition for the championship winning team, followed by a parade through the LSU campus when they returned home. 

Hampton’s football season was over, but for him, another season was about to begin. In fact, it already had. Hampton says he starts to get in the batting cage and get his muscles “back to doing baseball movement” with a couple of weeks left in the football season. 

“Towards the end of football season is when I try to start getting in the cages a little bit,” he said. “I try to get in there before it’s mandatory, to avoid any setbacks. Then as soon as football season is over I go all in on baseball.” 

Although he begins to slowly shift his focus to baseball while football is still being played, it still takes him quite a while to get back into baseball form.

“I would say it takes a while,” he said. “Hitting a baseball is one of the hardest things to do in sports." 

As the state of Tennessee’s first ever athlete to win Mr. Football and Mr. Baseball in the same year, Hampton always wanted to continue to play both at the college level, but didn’t know if he would be able to. When he began to receive offers for both, he knew then that it was possible. 

Naturally, some schools were only willing to let him play one. 

“I just crossed those schools off the list and focused on the ones that were going to allow me to play both,” he said. 

The two-sport star eventually chose LSU, who let him stick with both baseball and football. He was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the 23rd round of the 2019 MLB Draft and “entertained” the thought of going pro out of high school, but ultimately turned down a $1.8 million signing bonus and honored his commitment. 

“The situation wasn’t right so I decided to come to school,” he said. “I haven’t regretted my decision.”

Similar to many students and athletes, Hampton knew Baton Rouge felt like home as soon as he visited the campus for the first time. 

“On my first recruiting visit it felt like home. It always has and still does,” he said. 

Coming into college, Hampton and his coaches and trainers mapped out a plan for how he would go about the football and baseball seasons. He doesn’t participate in baseball’s fall practices or football’s spring activities and tries to keep his focus between the two sports equal throughout the year. 

“I stick to 50/50,” he said of his focus.”That was the plan coming in and that’s what I stuck with.” 

Despite Hampton’s efforts to make the transition to baseball as smoothly as possible his freshman season, a back injury, likely caused from the sudden change in muscle usage and movement, sidelined him for multiple weeks. Still, he prepared to get back onto the field sometime late in the season before the coronavirus pandemic prematurely ended the season for everybody.

“It had its ups and downs,” Hampton said of his freshman season, where he played in just 10 games with 26 at-bats. “But while we were playing, the team was having a lot of fun together and we were starting to gel. I’m looking forward to being able to do that again.” 

Hampton’s baseball season was over. But again, a new one was on the horizon. As soon as he fully recovered from his back injury in April, his focus shifted back to football, in which he’d have an expanded role heading into his sophomore season. 

The Tigers lost a record-setting 14 players to the 2020 NFL Draft, a group that featured two starting defensive backs in Grant Delpit and Kristian Fulton. Kary Vincent Jr., another defensive back set to benefit from the losses of Delpit and Fulton, opted out of the season with just over a month to go before the opener. Hampton now found himself near the top of the depth chart in only his second season. 

As we all know, 2020 did not treat Hampton and his teammates well. LSU opened the season with two losses in three weeks, both to unranked opponents, and found themselves sitting at 3-5 with just two games to go. The number of opt outs and injuries were piling up and the team was on their third quarterback of the season. 

“The season hadn’t gone how we wanted it to go up to that point,” Hampton said. “Then, the last couple of weeks we got together as a team to see how we wanted to be remembered. We didn’t want to go down as a team that won three games.” 

The team held a meeting on the Monday before their second to last game of the season against a Florida team eyeing a playoff spot. 

“Some of our leaders got up and talked about everything we had gone through during the season. The football game was all we had to prove where we were,” he said. 

The Tigers went on to knock off the sixth ranked Gators and followed it up with a win over Ole Miss in the season finale, completely changing the narrative of the 2020 season. They ended the season at 5-5, the program’s worst finish since 1999, but the outlook of the program had taken a turn for the better. 

Like one year ago around this time, as one season ended for Hampton, another one began. Next up, his sophomore baseball season. And like last year, he’s had to work to get back into baseball motions and shake off the rust that built up over the football season. 

“It’s been about a year since I’ve seen live pitching before these scrimmages we’ve had the last couple of weeks,” he said. “I’m just trying to get back comfortable on the baseball field with a lot of time off and getting everything back to normal.”

“For a kid that’s just coming out of football he’s so quickly acclimated,” junior outfielder Giovanni Digiacomo said when asked about how Hampton was handling the transition. “He’s super competitive and he’ll be a good asset for us in the outfield.”

Unlike the prior football season, Hampton won’t have the luxury of depleted depth ahead of him at his position. With the likes of DiGiacomo, highly touted freshman Dylan Crews, slugger Cade Beloso and several utility players, the outfield is the biggest strength of this season’s team. For Hampton, the competition motivates him to improve, and it’s something he knew he would have to overcome to play at LSU. 

So, where does Hampton fit in with the rest of the outfield? Head coach Paul Mainieri called his sophomore, “a wild card.”

“He looks good, he just hasn’t had the reps out there,” Mainieri said, noting the outfielder had occasionally lost fly balls in the sun in the early weeks of spring practice.

“They push me everyday to work harder,” he said of his teammates in the outfield. “I didn’t come to LSU knowing that there wouldn't be other talented guys around me. Seeing other talented guys around you always makes you better.” 

“I came here to play defensive back and LSU is ‘DBU’ so I would never say I shy away from talented people being the same position as me.” 

Coming into his second season on the diamond, Hampton now has the chance to put his name among the greatest two-sport athletes in LSU history and do something only three Tigers have ever done: win a championship in two sports. 

He would join Bennie Brazell, a wide receiver on the 2003 BCS football championship winner and a sprinter on the 2002 and 2004 track and field championship winning teams, and Jared Mitchell and Chad Jones, winners of the 2007 BCS football championship and the 2009 College World Series. 

“It’s something I came to LSU to do,” Hampton said. “It’s one of the few schools in the country that you can have a real shot at winning one in both sports.” 

Halfway on the path of becoming an LSU great, Hampton can see the light at the end of the tunnel, which ends with his collegiate career being stamped as one of the best in school history. 

“If we do what we need to do we have a shot at it,” he said when describing his and the team’s goal for this season. “That’s something that’s in the back of my mind and hopefully we can get that done.” 

One down, one to go.

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