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A Stranger in Paradise No Longer : Football: After giving up on Hawaii, Sean Hampton gives Glendale College a lift.

November 02, 1989|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Sean Hampton did not spend enough time in Hawaii to learn every local custom and expression, but like most visitors to the islands, he did become familiar with the word aloha .

Hampton, in fact, was subjected to the traditional expression of greeting and farewell more often than he cares remembering.

"Aloha, Sean," Hampton heard upon his arrival at the University of Hawaii in August of 1987, a few months after the standout running back graduated from Sylmar High.

"Aloha, Sean," Hawaii's football coaching staff said when Hampton, unhappy at being moved to receiver, left the Rainbow program after just one month and transferred to Glendale College.

"Aloha, Sean," they said when Hampton returned to Hawaii last January after rushing for more than 1,000 yards for Glendale.

"Aloha, Sean," they said for the last time when Hampton, who had been moved to defensive back, returned to Glendale a few months later.

Having never played a down for the Rainbows, Hampton has not appeared on the National Collegiate Athletic Assn.'s rushing list. But with his hops between the mainland and the islands, he might lead the nation in frequent-flier miles.

"My mother is a flight attendant, so those trips weren't a lot of money," Hampton says. "That's the one good thing."

Hampton, 20, has derived other benefits from his travels. He said the time spent coming and going helped him mature and gain perspective.

"I'm more focused on just getting my bachelor's degree," said Hampton, a 5-foot, 10-inch, 190-pound sophomore. "If football works out, it works out."

Should Hampton continue performing at his current level, things figure to work out well for both himself and the Vaqueros.

Last Saturday against Harbor, Hampton rushed for a game-high 146 yards as Glendale produced 615 yards of total offense in a 62-26 rout.

The victory set the stage for this Saturday's showdown between Glendale (4-2-1 overall, 3-1-1 in conference play) and Moorpark (6-1, 5-1).

This season, Hampton has rushed for 537 yards while rotating with sophomore Doug Dragomer (398 yards).

"I can't complain because the offense is doing great," Hampton said. "Sometimes you don't want to get taken out, but that's how it is."

Hampton, who runs with a punishing style, never envisioned playing at a junior college when he was running roughshod over defenses at Sylmar.

Despite missing four games because of a collarbone injury and bruised ribs his senior year, Hawaii and the University of New Mexico offered Hampton scholarships based on his performance as a junior, when he rushed for more than 1,000 yards.

Faced with a choice between the idyllic beaches of Oahu and the rugged landscape surrounding Albuquerque, Hampton opted for the islands.

"It was a pretty easy choice," Hampton recalls. But not, as it turned out, the right one.

Upon arrival, Hampton discovered that the Rainbows were dropping the tailback-dominated I formation for a run-and-shoot offense, which highlights the quarterback. Hampton was moved to slotback.

Shortly afterward, he decided to move out.

"It was my fault, I should have checked the offense they ran," Hampton says. "And when I look back on it, I don't think I was ready to go to a university."

Hampton returned to Southern California and Glendale, where his cousins, defensive back Michael Hampton and linebacker Tony France, were freshmen.

"I didn't know if I could compete anymore because sitting out a year is hard," Hampton said. "You lose that edge."

After a slow start in preseason workouts, however, Hampton became one of the top performers for a Vaquero team that went 10-2 and won the Western State Conference Bowl last season.

Hampton's 1,150 yards rushing was the fourth-best single-season total in Glendale history, dating to 1928. He was named All-Western State Conference and second-team all-state, drawing interest, once again, from across the Pacific.

"Hawaii called and said they weren't going to pass as much, that the offense was going to be more centered around the backs," Hampton said. "It sounded good. Also, my cousins were leaving Glendale. I think I felt pressure to leave because they were."

The Glendale coaching staff did not dissuade Hampton from transferring.

"We told him, 'This is probably a good decision because who knows what kind of season you're going to have next year,' " Glendale Coach John Cicuto said.

Things appeared to be going smoothly after Hampton returned to Hawaii for the start of the spring semester. He worked out at fullback and slotback and was the starter at tailback in short-yardage situations.

But when one of the Rainbows' reserve cornerbacks went down with an injury, Hampton was moved to defense.

"I just wanted to run the ball," said Hampton, who transferred back to Glendale and took nine units during the spring and 12 units during the summer to retain his eligibility. "I've changed my outlook about going to a Division I school.

"I don't care what school I go to--big or small--as long as I get to run the ball."

Hampton will get the opportunity Saturday against a Moorpark team that leads the state in defense, allowing just 170.7 a game.

After that game, the Vaqueros complete their regular-season schedule with games against Santa Barbara and Ventura.

After the season, Hampton is likely to receive scholarship offers from several schools. He is not certain which school he will ultimately attend, but he knows it will not be one on an island.

"I'm through with Hawaii," Hampton said with a smile. "Well, I'd go back there for vacation."

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