South Carolina had just knocked off previously undefeated Missouri 27-24 in overtime when the Gamecocks began celebrating on the Tigers’ Farout Field.
The Gamecocks had seriously impeded Missouri’s chance at a national title game appearance, and their players rejoiced after Elliott Fry’s 40-yard field goal.
South Carolina cornerback Victor Hampton waited, though. He would celebrate in the locker room with his teammates later, but he knew how tough the loss must hurt, and he shook hands with every Tigers player he could find to congratulate them on a game well played.
“That’s the type of guy I am,” Hampton said at February’s NFL combine. “My reputation is my reputation. I am just here to prove people wrong. That’s just what I have to do right now. Hopefully, when people meet me in person they will see what kind of person I am.”
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Hampton, who is one of the top 15 cornerbacks in this year’s NFL draft class, doesn’t have the sparkling off-the-field résumé. He attended four high schools (including two Charlotte schools), was almost kicked off South Carolina’s team more than once, was suspended for the first half of the 2014 Capital One Bowl and could usually be seen on TV delivering trash talk to his opponent.
That moment in Columbia, Mo., as well as some of his work in the Columbia community show the redshirt junior is trying to make a change. Hampton has tried to be as honest as he can at the combine and other pre-draft meetings with teams leading up to May’s draft.
“I have known since 10th or 11th grade that NFL people would know everything about you,” Hampton said. “That’s the only thing that has been tough about my reputation and trying to change it for so long. Hopefully they believe in me and hope that I am a reliable guy. They are putting millions of dollars in you so I don’t think it can be too personal.”
The South Carolina football program has a relationship with the Richland County Public Library, and the two have partnered to create the Pigskin Poets program, an event during the summer that keeps kids’ reading skills sharp while school is out. Hampton was a prominent member of the program representing the Gamecocks.
Reading to kids in a South Carolina public library was a far cry from where he was in high school, though.
Hampton began his high school career at Butler, then left for Timmonsville (S.C.) before returning to Charlotte and attending Independence. He was kicked off the team there, and that’s when his mother decided it was time to get him away from Charlotte.
“I was starting to get caught up in Charlotte’s environment, and I had a smart mom,” Hampton said. “To make it where I am now, she got me up out of there. It was tough. I started hanging out with the wrong crowd, doing the wrong things, and I had a mom who wasn’t going to have it. She wanted more for her children so she got me up out of there.”
Hampton finished his high school career at Darlington (S.C.), where he was named an all-state cornerback by the Associated Press despite playing in only six games because of his transfer. He signed with the Gamecocks after originally committing to Florida and became a starter in 2012.
In 2013, Hampton had a team-high 43 solo tackles and nine passes defended while placing second on the team with three interceptions. Once he learned of his top-three round NFL draft grade, Hampton decided to leave school early for the pros.
He has faced questions from teams already, and his past will continue to follow him in the coming months and wherever he lands in the draft. Part of him wonders what would have been if he stuck it out in Charlotte.
“I kind of wish I had stayed at Butler and went through the struggles that I went through there,” Hampton said. “Maybe I wouldn’t be going through all these questions about my reputation.”