Saquan Hampton and his friend are discussing NFL draft picks from their hometown of Trenton, New Jersey.
Hampton’s friend drops the name “Kevin Johnson” as the last well-known NFL draft pick from the Trenton area (Johnson was a second-round receiver from Syracuse back in 1999). “Troy Vincent, I remember,” Hampton chimes in. His friend confirms that, but also adds that the Wisconsin great and future NFL All-Pro played his high school ball on the west side of the Delaware River at Pennbury High School in Pennsylvania.
The Trenton-to-NFL draft history lesson fizzles out with a consensus thought — the amount of local players to get to that level is few and far between. It’s a bit of an anomaly that the state’s capital city has had such luck while New Jersey itself was home to the likes of NFL notables like Joe Theismann, Joe Flacco and Victor Cruz to name a few.
Hampton is trying to change that.
And unlike Johnson and Vincent, who both left the state for their college careers, Hampton is embarking on his Trenton-to-NFL journey as a Rutgers graduate.
“That’s definitely the goal to make that happen,” Hampton told Saturday Tradition. “Not only am I trying to represent the DBs here, but for my hometown … the support I get from them is second-to-none. It motivates me just knowing that I can do something that hasn’t been done very often.”
Hampton’s mom and 2 sisters would always make the quick 45-minute drive from Trenton to Piscataway, where they watched him turn into a 3-year starting safety at Rutgers.
It was the Rutgers pipeline of NFL defensive backs that drew Hampton to his in-state school in the first place. He watched guys like the McCourty twins, Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon thrive under Greg Schiano’s teams in the late 2000s and into the early part of the decade.
All of them, of course, got to play for the Patriots (the McCourtys and Harmon still do). There aren’t many things that Bill Belichick loves more than Rutgers defensive backs.
— Boston 25 Sports (@Bos25Sports) January 15, 2017
Hampton and his fellow Rutgers DBs would joke about the idea of continuing that trend. But in order to do that, Hampton would have to end another drought.
Including Courtney Greene and Marcus Cooper, Rutgers had 6 defensive backs drafted in a 5-year stretch. Since then, however, the pipeline has gone dry. Rutgers hasn’t had a defensive back drafted since Harmon and Ryan were selected 8 picks apart by the Patriots in 2013.
Part of that could be chalked up to the program’s continued struggles since joining the B1G in 2014. The Scarlet Knights are 7-36 against B1G competition, which certainly hasn’t made it easier for Hampton to make a national name for himself.
Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton
The individual numbers are certainly there, though. Starting in every game at safety his senior season, Hampton had 64 tackles, 13 pass breakups and 3 interceptions, 2 of which were against Wisconsin. He earned Senior Bowl Defensive MVP honors that week, even though the Senior Bowl representatives were actually at that game to watch Wisconsin players.
Hampton was named the Homer Hazel Award winner as the team’s most valuable player in 2018. He earned respect from his teammates, but outside the Rutgers walls, that’s been a tough go. The Senior Bowl didn’t extend him an invite despite the fact that he got a mid-round draft grade. And he settled for honorable mention All-B1G honors, despite the fact that he was tied for the conference lead in passes defended per game.
“Honorable mention, to me, I wasn’t satisfied with that,” Hampton said. “I felt as if my production was worth more than that. But all that did was make me hungrier for this process that I’m in right now. It’s only gonna continue make me strive.”
Besides having to overcome the “best player on a losing team” stigma, Hampton had to overcome a nagging partially torn pec that sidelined him for significant chunks of 2016 and 2017.
Heading into his senior season, Hampton had to figure out a different way to stay on the field. His teammates stressed the importance of living in the training room, so every Monday, Hampton got chest massages. Not only did it help him with the pec injury, but he felt his shoulders were looser.
“When we had practice, I’d be the first guy in the building and the last one out just because I was going a lot of recovery,” Hampton said. “That was my main focus was to keep recovering my body, keep doing the little things. Even when I felt good, I would just keep doing things as if I was injured. That carried me a long way.”
Now, Hampton is hoping that his healthy senior season will help carry him to the NFL.
There could be the rare opportunity for him to play his entire career close to home with the Eagles and Giants nearby. Hampton grew up 40 minutes outside of Philadelphia and an hour from MetLife Stadium, where the Giants call home.
But what team’s jersey did he rock as a baby and which team does he still root for? The Cowboys, because his grandpa used to live in Texas.
Is it safe to say he wouldn’t mind getting to wear a Cowboys jersey as a working professional?
“I haven’t really thought about that a whole lot,” Hampton said, “but that’d be a nice little Cinderella story.”
Wherever he goes, he’s confident he’ll represent Trenton well. He already has.
Rutgers safety Saquan Hampton
The Rutgers team captain fulfilled a promise to his mom by graduating college. A couple of Hampton’s teachers at Nottingham High School reached out to him to have him speak to at-risk students on how to stay out of trouble and succeed. There are also plans in the works for Hampton to receive recognition from Hamilton Township. That’s all before he makes his NFL debut.
The off-the-field aspects are only going to help the well-spoken safety in the pre-draft process. There will be plenty of opportunities for him to boost his draft stock when he sits down with teams in Indianapolis. Despite the all-conference and Senior Bowl snubs, Hampton did get an invite to the East-West Shrine game, as well as that all-important NFL Scouting Combine invite.
There, he’ll try to confirm what the 2018 tape said. That is, he’s a healthy, versatile defensive back who’s comfortable playing single high coverage in the post or lining up in the box.
“I feel like I check all those boxes,” Hampton said.
The question for Hampton now becomes whether he can start another pipeline of NFL defensive backs at Rutgers. All signs point to him becoming the program’s first defensive back drafted since the school joined the B1G in 2014.
That would kill 2 birds with 1 stone. Hampton is on the verge of ending the Trenton-to-NFL drought, too.
If and when that happens, no longer will a couple Trenton natives have to go back to the 20th century to come up with a local who got drafted.