Victor Hampton is a student of history – at least of his own.
Keenly aware of where he started life and the circuitous path he has followed since, the former South Carolina cornerback always is looking for mile markers to quantify how far he’s come.
Hanging out with Derek Jeter is a good one. Hampton, who played for the Gamecocks for three seasons before leaving with one year of eligibility left to enter this year’s NFL Draft, trained for this week’s NFL Combine at The Performance Compound in Tampa, Fla., where Jeter works out in the offseason.
“Nice guy, sat down and talked to him, one of the most laid-back guys,” Hampton said. “You would never know he was Derek Jeter if you didn’t know his face. He handles his business the right way. He knows his job is his priority so whatever he has to do to keep his job, he does it.”
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Hampton is trying to emulate that work ethic now that he is on the brink of a big payday that he wasn’t always sure he would get. The son of a single mother who moved from school to school and high school team to high school team before eventually being turned away by the University of Florida and then landing with the Gamecocks, Hampton now finds himself looking at a mid-round or earlier selection in the draft.
“I keep hearing second round, third round, and I hear some guys say, ‘He’s ready to play now.’ Just have to see where I go,” he said. “I have a chance to slide up there in the top three cornerbacks. I’ve got to go perform. I just think I need to go up there and show that I can actually run a 4.3, 4.4 (40-yard dash).”
Defensive backs are the last position group to rotate through the combine’s maze of measurements, interviews and skills testing. Hampton, who was fourth on South Carolina’s team with 51 tackles and had a team-high nine pass breakups to go along with three interceptions last season, will fly to Indianapolis on Saturday and work out on the field on Tuesday.
He has been preparing for that workout with a six-day-a-week regimen in Tampa, where he is working on improving his performance in the drills he will asked perform and working on his on-field technique with former NFL defensive backs Ronde Barber and Corey Ivy.
“I am going to kill the drills man, backpedaling, catching the balls,” Hampton said.
That will be the easy part, he knows. The tougher part will be answering for a past that includes multiple departures from high school teams and at least two moments at South Carolina where he was nearly kicked off the team for behavior issues.
“I have to do well in the interviews,” Hampton said. “I’m sure I am going to get some character questions. I’m just going to tell them the truth. I’m not going to lie to them. I’m going to tell them I learned a lot there and went through a lot of adversity. Hopefully, they will understand I have learned from some of the mistakes I made.”
Hampton is hopeful NFL executives take a cue from South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who praised Hampton’s maturation near the end of the 2013 season.
“I was always grateful to have (Spurrier) because he gave me an opportunity,” Hampton said. “A lot of schools gave up on me coming out of high school. I feel like he was a little hard on me, but I always knew he liked me. I was always real with him. I always approached him like a man. I never was scared to talk to him, and I think he liked that about me.”
Hampton made up his mind before the 2013 season that this would be his last, he said.
“I just felt like it was time to go man,” he said. “I am ready for the NFL, give the next guys their chance up. I played behind some good guys that I felt like I might be even better than and they are in the NFL doing well so it’s like, ‘Hey, there is nothing else to prove.’”
Counting a redshirt season, Hampton spent four years in Columbia, which felt like an eternity for a kid who attended four high schools.
“Let’s be honest, how many people thought I was going to make it four years?” Hampton said. “That’s the first time I’ve ever stayed at a school more than a year-and-a-half.”
Hampton credited his mother, Connie Boykin, for keeping him on step ahead of his own missteps.
“My mom had to move me sometimes to get me out of the environment I was in,” he said. “I had a strong parent. She always believed her children were going to be special. The first thing she installed in me was never say the word ‘can’t’ in life. That was something I always kept with me.”