Dominique Hampton has paid the price.
Now, it’s time to profit.
Hampton — a fifth-year defensive back from Glendale, Arizona — played sparingly at cornerback in his first three seasons in Seattle before finally switching to safety last spring. His 2021 season was derailed by a drive-extending taunting penalty in a 31-10 loss at Michigan on Sept. 11; Hampton was relegated to special-teams duty for the next four games.
“If we have some mental missteps with poise, there’s always going to be a price to pay,” former head coach Jimmy Lake said of Hampton’s predicament on Sept. 20. “And now you have to earn your trust back, and when that trust is earned back, then more playing time will be given.”
Hampton re-entered the rotation in the second half of the season and made his first three starts against Stanford, Oregon and Arizona State. He finished with 30 tackles, two pass breakups and a forced fumble in 11 games.
The penalty cost him playing time but provided perspective.
“I learned I have to keep my cool and I can’t let the outside affect what’s in here,” Hampton said after Washington’s first spring practice on Wednesday, pointing to his head. “I’ve got to keep what’s in my head calm, cool and collected. I learned that from 44, Bookie (Brendan Radley-Hiles). He told me that last year. ‘Calm, cool and collected, and you’re going to be all right.’”
Of course, the physical aspect has never been an issue. At 6 foot 3 and 216 pounds, Hampton has the size to convincingly stuff the run and the speed to competently cover wide receivers.
And at his third position in the last five seasons, Hampton will have to prove it.
“It’s sort of a linebacker/corner hybrid,” Hampton said of UW’s new “husky” position, which replaces a traditional nickel. “So you’re going to be covering the slot receiver a lot. But you’re also going to need to get in the run fit and tackle the running back.”
Hampton said, when co-defensive coordinator Chuck Morrell and cornerbacks coach Juice Brown explained the position, “I loved what they were saying. I feel like that fits me and my skill set pretty well.”
For now, Hampton and sophomore Kamren Fabiculanan (6-1, 189) are UW’s only two true “huskies” (though incoming freshman Tristan Dunn could eventually be added to the mix).
Suddenly, the path to playing time seems exceedingly clear.
But it took four seasons of struggles to prepare him for success.
“I believe that (adversity) put me in a mental space where I had to understand myself,” Hampton said. “So I used that as motivation, like, ‘Oh, I’m still not playing? Something’s not going right.’ Because they’re trying to play the best players. So I have to put in work.
“I feel like this offseason I really committed to making sure my body was right, losing a couple pounds. And mentally I got the playbook down.”
For Hampton, the mental side is what matters most. And in a new system, at a new position, with a new staff, Hampton may finally reach new heights.
“I’m excited to see Dom Hampton finally get let loose and let him go out there and just be an animal,” said former UW running back Sean McGrew at Tuesday’s pro day, when asked which players could emerge this fall. “That’s a scary sight to look over on the defense and see a 6-foot-3, 220-pound safety (or ‘husky’) that runs a 4.4 coming down to meet you in the hole. He’s a solid athlete and I’m excited to see what he can do, because all I’ve seen since he’s been here is great things.”
Added Hampton: “It’s been a tough journey. Everybody goes through those personal battles where you question if you are who you think you are. I obviously had those thoughts, not playing. But my dad and mom gave me some good advice on making sure you stay consistent and stick with it and it’s going to work out in the end.”
Calm, cool and collected, and he’s going to be all right.
ZTF and the truth about 280
When he led the nation with 1.75 sacks per game in 2020, Zion Tupuola-Fetui was listed at 6-3 and 280 pounds.
Who ever said that numbers never lie?
“That 2020 season, I was probably more like 270. I had one day where I weighed in at 278, so they put me at 280,” Tupuola-Fetui said with a laugh, after completing his first spring practice at 241 pounds.
“I honestly feel good. We’ll see how spring ball goes. Just with my recovery and eating habits, my body has come down to this (weight). I don’t feel like I’m in a bad place, but I don’t know because I haven’t been on the field. So ask me in two weeks and I can probably tell you if I’m planning on gaining weight before fall or not. But I feel good. I feel like I’m flying around.”
Tupuola-Fetui — who continues to recover from a torn Achilles tendon sustained last April — also speculated that “when it’s all said and done my best weight will be around 255, 260. But I’ve got to use spring ball to figure that out.”
After turning in eight tackles and one sack in five games last season, “ZTF” is also using the spring to adopt a new system … and trust he’s still the player that terrorized Pac-12 offensive tackles in 2020.
“I feel good,” the fifth-year junior EDGE rusher said. “I think it’s at the point in my recovery where you’ve just got to do it, you know? I can sit here scared for another six months if I want to. It’s happened. I’m doing all this work to get healthy, so I have to trust the work and trust my body.”
Tupuola-Fetui — who pondered entering the transfer portal this offseason — is learning to trust a new coaching staff, too.
“He’s done it before,” first-year UW EDGE coach Eric Schmidt said. “He’s not a guy you’re going to treat like an 18-year-old kid when he walks in here. It’s like, what do you want, No. 1? What are you looking for? This is what we have to offer going forward. I think you build (the relationship) from there.
“He’s a mature guy. He knows what he’s looking for. He’s on the road to getting back to where he was in 2020. We’re here to help him do that.”
- Besides his defensive duties, Hampton caught punts on Monday as well. “(Offensive coordinator Ryan) Grubb actually came up to me and asked if I could do punt returns and kick returns, and I told him I’m pretty comfortable catching them,” Hampton said. “So I came out and showed him I could catch a couple, and he gave me an opportunity to go back there and show my skill.”