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Maurice Hampton bracing for difficult decision between love and baseball

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Maurice Hampton is a chameleon.

It’s not that the senior prospect is freakishly good at football or baseball. He is, but what distinguished Hampton from both elite players is that he’s equally as gifted in both sports.

Perfect Game grades Hampton a 10, which signifies a high pick in the MLB Draft or an elite college player. He’s a power hitter who’s a tactician in the outfield, so it’s no surprise MLB.com projects him as one of the best 30 players in the country.

Hampton ranks as the No. 105 prospect nationally on Rivals. A 4-star athlete projected to play defensive back at LSU, many of the same traits that highlight his baseball scouting report intrigue college coaches about what he could do at both safety and cornerback.

The elephant in the room is if Hampton will ever make it to campus.

Hampton gave a verbal commitment to LSU baseball coach Paul Mainieri and former LSU football coach Les Miles in July 2016 and has never wavered. Other colleges such as Auburn, Florida, Ole Miss and Tennessee have come knocking lately. Alabama and Miami made attempts to flip the 4-star prospect last winter, but no college has been able to divert Hampton’s path to Baton Rouge.

He was one of the inaugural members of this 2019 class, that currently ranks No. 6 on Rivals. He’s endured coaching changes and seen two different signing classes all in the time he’s been committed to the program. Hampton will have to opportunity to make his pact official on Feb. 6.

Doing so would at least temporarily give two sets of Tigers coaching staffs hopes of adding a blue-chip piece to their rosters -- at least until June when the MLB Draft commences. Childhood dreams of snatching interceptions in Death Valley or going yard in Alex Box will be weighed against a multi-million payday. A passion for two sports and the chance to possibly go down two different paths to professional leagues will be argued for -- and against -- by his entire family.

Much will hinge on when the 17-year-old hears his name get called.

“People who are honest with me tell me both of them have pros and cons,” Hampton told Tiger Details. “If I want to keep playing football, college is the route to take. If I want to develop as a baseball player earlier and quicker, devoting my time to baseball will help. It all depends on what I personally want to do and what position I’m in.

“I’m in a situation where I can’t go wrong. I feel like either way I take, I can be successful doing it. I’m making a decision that’s right for me and being put into the right situation. It’ll be a hard decision for me, but not as hard as people want to make it out to be because I’ll be fine in either situation.”

A dual-sport love affair

To be fair, Hampton’s first taste of sports came via football. He was 6 when he first stepped onto the football field and began to shadow his father, Maurice Hampton Sr., who played collegiately at Jackson State.

A year later, he took to the diamond. From there, a dual-sport love affair was underway and Hampton refuses to play favorites.

“I tell people all the time -- my love football and baseball is equal,” he said. “When it’s football season, I love football, I enjoy football, I do everything I can to be the best football player. When it’s baseball season, I put football aside and try to be the baseball player I can be. It’s as equal as anything. I separate the two. I don’t intertwine them.”

With pinpoint focus comes production. In a dozen games as a senior, Hampton caught 54 passes for 1,174 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. On defense, he recorded one interception and broke up eight passes to go along with 26 tackles, including two for loss, and a sack. He scored multiple touchdowns as a kickoff and punt return specialist.

Before leading Memphis University School to its first state championship game in half a decade, Hampton was awarded Tennessee’s Mr. Football award for Division II-AAA, the eighth in his high school’s history and the first since 2016.

The hardware now sitting in his school lobby’s trophy case didn’t represent a breakout campaign for Hampton -- rather, a reminder of the caliber football player he is. Hampton established himself as one of the best freshmen football players in America as a freshman -- enough to garner an offer from LSU defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, a feat not too many ninth-graders can claim at that stage in their recruitments. But once he was committed and became a household name, and even named an early Under Armour All-America Game selection, Hampton didn’t perform up to his own standards as a junior in 2017.

“My freshman year, people really saw the type of football player I was,” he began. “Then again, the end of my sophomore year and junior year, I had a target on my back and I didn’t respond the way I should have. I performed well, but not to the level i thought I should. This summer, I put a lot of work in because I wanted to win a state championship, and if I had a good season, I’d put my team in a position to do that. I had a chip on my shoulder to prove I’m one of the best players in the country, one of the best athletes in the country -- not just a corner -- and I went out every game to try and prove it.”

The statistics and awards speak for themselves. As does a trip to Tennessee Tech’s campus, where Hampton’s team finished as the state runner-up. “I’m still over it,” he remarked.

That hunger translates to baseball, too.

Hampton is what baseball scouts across America so desperately covet: a five-tool player. He’s a speedy outfielder with a 6.44-second 60-yard dash. He throws it 91 miles per hour off his hand hits baseballs 96 miles per off of his bat. Each of those abilities ranks in the 96-percentile.

The 6-foot, 195-pounder hybrid defensive back-outfielder uses his experience in the secondary to chase down fly balls, and it’s reciprocal. College coaches tend to bring his prowess on the diamond while discussing his abilities as a future college football player and believe it’ll help him be a difference-maker early on.

“Honestly, what makes me good at baseball, besides the fact I hit for power, is my athleticism in the outfield,” Hampton explained. “Playing defensive back, you have to track the ball and flip your hips. In the outfield, I use the same skills to track fly balls and run down anything out there. Being a defensive back and an outfielder is basically the same skill-sets. I take that from the football field to the baseball field, and vice versa.

“Coach Raymond, Coach (Bill) Busch always say you’ve got to be able to track the ball. A lot of coaches like that. They see it in my film. I can track down any ball. They say I get that from baseball. You’re with born naturally with it or you acquire it from another sport. The special teams coordinator (Greg McMahon) tells me that I make punt return look so easy. I think that has something to do with playing baseball, me tracking a small white ball coming from 300 feet away that’s hard to find. It makes the special teams aspect look easy, too.”

Signing in February

The early signing period is approaching rapidly, but that’s one decision Hampton knows he doesn’t have to make.

The 4-star athlete will not sign his national letter of intent on Dec. 19. Instead, he’ll wait until National Signing in February to put the pen to paper and make his commitment to LSU official. It has nothing to do with Auburn’s late push or an official visit to Florida back in September, Hampton said. He’s resolute on signing with LSU, just as he was 29 months ago.

This is about doing a solid for his teammates, who held off signing their paperwork in November to wait for Hampton.

“It’s always been my plan to sign in February,” he said. “I’m not signing just because I want to sign in February. A lot of my friends in school, they're planning to sign in February. Actually, I had some guys supposed to sign in November, but they waited on me to do the ceremony at the same time as me, so it’s more of a personal thing. It had nothing to do with recruiting or where I’m going to sign in February.”

Hampton doesn’t believe signing in February instead of December will bring any more clarity to his decision about his professional future. That likely won’t be determined until his senior baseball season as scouts visit Memphis to take a closer look at the potential first-round pick.

He also doesn’t fret signing with LSU seven weeks after the early signing period comes and goes. Last year was the first year in which football prospects could ink their letters of intent before Christmas. In Baton Rouge, a commitment either signed in December or didn’t sign with the Tigers at all. Only priority targets had the ability to wait until February to make their verbal pacts official.

Hampton has already been granted those rights by LSU coach Ed Orgeron, who indicated there will be a scholarship waiting for the elite prospect whenever he’s ready to sign. He isn’t seeking drama, and the open line of communication with the Tigers’ staff has eased him for the easy part of this puzzle.

“Obviously, LSU is my dream school; it’s where I always wanted to go,” he stated. “The football-baseball aspect was introduced early, earlier than any other school introduced it. Most of my offers were just football and just baseball. The fact that LSU put it together made them stand out. It made it special, and with them being my dream school, it made it an easy decision for me to make when I was younger. Kardell (Thomas) and I were the first two members of the class and we’ve done a good job of leading the class. Derek (Stingley Jr.) was a part of the class earlier, and then he got back in, but he’s always been a part of what we wanted to do. We wanted to start it off right and I think we’re going to finish it strong, too.”


'I can play in the NFL also'

Hampton will sign with LSU on Feb. 6, but there’s a very real chance he never steps foot on campus after that.

Mock drafts project Hampton a top-30 selection in June, a potential first- or second-rounder, but that’ll likely be clarified with his performance this spring. If Hampton’s baseball season matches what he did on the football field, a huge payday might be in order.

The first pick in the 2018 draft earned a paycheck of more than $8 million. The second pick received $7.5 million. Beyond that, first-round picks were compensated anywhere from $6.9 million (No. 3) to $2.26 million (No. 30).

Players selected at the top of the second round earned $1.6 million compared to the bottom, where they made just more than $900,000.

Draftees in 2019 are expected to earn values 4.2 percent higher than last year to reflect the increase in MLB's annual revenues. That will all play into Hampton’s decision to enroll at LSU in June or forego a future in college altogether.

“To be honest, it’s something I haven’t even thought about,” Hampton admitted. “I’m trying to stay away from thinking too far ahead. Whether it’s the draft or going to college, I’m OK going with both situations. I don’t think I can say I’d choose either one right now; it depends on what situation I’m put in. I have to see how everything plays out. Playing in Death Valley is something I’ve always wanted to do. Playing in The Box is something I’ve always wanted to do, but if an opportunity presents itself I can’t turn down, then I’m going to have to do it.”

The financial incentive will certainly be the biggest catalyst in Hampton’s decision next summer, but the dollar figure will be equally as significant. The love of the games also looms large.

Hampton has spent more than a decade sharpening his football and baseball crafts, which has been evident by the opportunity to sign football and baseball scholarships at LSU. In that chunk of time, the dual-sport athlete has naturally grown attached to both activities. It’ll have to be the right number for Hampton to give one up.

As a 17-year-old, Hampton realizes he alone can’t make this decision. He’ll lean on his mother and father, and a few others to navigate through this decision between love and lofty financial gains.

“Honestly, it’s kind of surreal to be in the situation I’m in because it’s been a dream of mine, something I’ve worked hard for and I don’t feel like I’m in that situation yet. I haven’t been thinking about it, so that’s part of it, but I’ve honestly not sat down and thought about the situation I’m in. I just tried to enjoy my senior year.

“Obviously, my parents help me out a lot, especially my dad. Him going through a similar process, him seeing everything that I am helps me weed out what’s real and what’s fake. Have parent support behind you, giving good insight on something I haven’t done beforeranks helps a lot. Both of my parents do a good job with that.”

What number will it take to nudge Hampton away from football? Even he doesn’t know … yet.

What he understands: he wants to play football, at LSU, and be a part of the 2019 class that puts the Tigers in the national championship conversation. He wants to play for Manieri and experience being Baton Rouge’s Deion Sanders.

At this point, the bigger mystery is why not?

“I feel like I go to LSU and do what I’m supposed to do on the football side of things, I can play in the NFL also,” Hampton notes. “I’m not going to play baseball for anything; it would have to be the right amount because I feel like I’m as talented on the football field as I am on the baseball field.”