INDIANAPOLIS — Jewel Hampton knew the questions were coming, and he was prepared to answer them.
After his 2010 college season, the running back from Indianapolis left Iowa for Southern Illinois. It’s a downward move, going from virtual starter at a Big Ten program to the Football Championship Subdivision school. Hampton met with six or seven teams on Thursday night, and they all asked him the same question.
“Obviously everybody wants to know why I transferred and stuff like that,” Hampton said at the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “But I just tell them I wasn’t happy there. It was a great place, but I just wasn’t happy there.
“I definitely needed a fresh start especially after being injured two seasons in a row. I went to Carbondale, and I had a full, healthy season. I’m definitely glad with the decision I made.”
Hampton, 22, measured at 5-foot-9 and 218 pounds, six pounds more than he weighed during the season. He was productive despite suffering a sprained ankle midway through the season. Hampton rushed for 1,121 yards and 17 touchdowns last year for Southern Illinois. They were solid numbers for a back coming off two injury-plagued seasons in his final two years at Iowa.
“I definitely do get sick of being injured, particularly because I’ve never been this injured this many times in my life,” Hampton said. “It’s unfortunate it happened in my college career, but I do have to be resilient because this is my passion. This is something that I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I just can’t quit whenever I get an injury. I just keep pushing through and hope for the best.”
Hampton was supposed to be the back to replace “the back” at Iowa. Shonn Greene earned the Doak Walker Award as the nation’s top running back in 2008. As Greene’s back-up, Hampton was productive. He rushed for 463 yards and seven touchdowns, which then was a freshman record at Iowa.
“I definitely took the experience of playing behind Shonn Greene,” Hampton said. “He was a great back and now he’s in the pros. He taught me a lot. I took what he taught me and try to apply it to the field.”
He entered the 2009 offseason as the starter but suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in summer workouts and missed the season. Hampton took a red-shirt year, then rallied for 2010. Hampton returned, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown in Iowa’s first three games. But he suffered another ACL tear in Iowa’s loss at Arizona, this one in his left knee.
Hampton rehabbed his knee the rest of the fall and decided to transfer at the end of the fall semester.
“I was ready to leave, and I left,” he said.
Hampton rebounded last year as a red-shirt junior for Southern Illinois but decided to forgo his senior year and become NFL -draft eligible. He said his running style hasn’t changed from his days at Iowa.
“I had disappointing moments but I had my high points, too,” Hampton said. “I just take it for the best.”
Hampton will have his pro day on March 15. He won’t run at the combine because of a bone bruise. He said the injuries have failed to alter the way he runs the ball.
“I really can’t describe my style,” Hampton said. “People say I run angry. People have said I resemble my running style I’d say (Baltimore running back) Ray Rice. After watching Ray Rice play, I would say that I resemble Ray Rice.”
Hampton trains this offseason at St. Vincent’s College in Indianapolis. He hopes to get drafted but more than anything, he just wants an opportunity.
“Obviously everybody hopes to get drafted,” Hampton said. “But if I get picked up free agent or something like that, I just need a chance. That’s all I want, is a chance. If I get picked up by a team, I’ll just be happy with that.”
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