Saturday, October 31, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Bielema is on right track, Dan Hampton says

By NATE ALLENSpecial to The Leader

FAYETTEVILLE – One of the Arkansas Razorbacks’ two NFL Hall of Famers endorsed Bret Bielema’s operation of the Razorbacks football program.

Dan Hampton, the Jacksonville native and All-American defensive tackle from 1975-78 for the Arkansas Razorbacks, played under Frank Broyles for two years and Lou Holtz the last two. Hampton and Lance Alworth are the two Razorbacks enshrined in the NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. The starting defensive tackle for the Super Bowl XX champion Chicago Bears addressed Wednesday’s meeting of the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club at Mermaid’s Restaurant.

Hampton criticized Bielema for this year’s 1-3 start, saying the head Hog got away from the physical style that made him successful for seven years at Wisconsin, and led to the success the Razorbacks enjoyed at the end of last season. But he added that Bielema has always had the team on the right track since coming in and rebuilding from the scandalous end to the Bobby Petrino regime and the chaotic 2012 season that followed under interim coach John L. Smith.

Hampton asserted what the UA most needs and said Bielema supplies it.

“First and foremost, it has to have direction and a foundation,” Hampton said. “After all the crazy years and the Petrino nonsense and all that, you need someone you can trust and count on to be there. And guess what? This is what coach Bielema has given us. We’re going to make steady progress and we’re going to get better. We’re here, and next year we’re going to be there. You get kids buying in, the next thing you know you can jump a couple of rungs on the ladder pretty quick.”

Hampton credited his years at Arkansas for much of the foundation for his NFL stardom, but said it truly all began with Bill Reed, his high school coach at Jacksonville.

The biggest in his fifth grade class, “I think I weighed 180 pounds, then,” Hampton recalled. He was a farm boy that took to football until falling 40 feet out of a tree while in seventh grade. He spent six months in a wheelchair and was advised not to play football again. So he started playing the saxophone in the band.

Reed encouraged him to give football a try, and Hampton did once he was medically cleared.

Hampton explained that Jacksonville, so dominated by its Air Force Base that caused constant student and team turnover, didn’t know recent football success in the 1960s and 70s until Reed.

“The team was horrible,” Hampton said. “We hadn’t won a game in five years. Bill Reed built the program from grass roots. I agreed to come out and how lucky was I that he persevered. Even though I wasn’t very good, my first year we won a couple and my senior year we went 7-4. The next six years, Bill Reed won three state championships because he built a foundation.”

By his senior year, Hampton was big-time college recruited, including from Arkansas. It set his future apart from his teammates, though he didn’t know it until told by a coach after his last high school game.

“My last game in high school all my teammates were crying,” Hampton said. “And I thought, ‘Well, I guess I need to cry.’ So I started acting like I am crying. My offensive line coach said, ‘Don’t you cry! Them other kids they have a reason to cry because they may never get to put on pads again. You are going to have a great chance to go on and play in college and who knows? Those other kids, they have the right to cry because they paid the price just like you did, but you get to go on and they don’t. So they are crying for a reason.’”

That Jacksonville senior high school moment hit home to Hampton at his Hall of Fame induction.

“As I stood on that stage in Canton,” Hampton said, “I thought of those other kids. My coach was right. Everybody on the team pays the same price.”