While Nelson Hampton should be one of the most exciting running backs in the
Valley once again this season, observers of Jag football will have to be on their toes to
follow the progress of the senior jitterbug. So will opposing defenses, because they will
have to account for “The Little Cat” wherever he lines up.
In Econ’s new wrinkle for 2010, Hampton and a host of other standouts will be
seeing double duty. Along with lining up as a set back and in the slot, or perhaps even out
wide, Hampton, who rushed for over 500 yards and caught a number of long balls as a
receiver, will also be called upon to help the defense out at cornerback.
It’s all part of Coach Oscar Salinas’ goal of getting his best athletes on the field
for as many snaps as possible. Best case, at the four or five junctures that make or break a
ball game on Friday night, the Jags will have their top-flight athletes in the middle of the
“It makes sense to get your best guys out there as much as possible, provided hat
they are in shape and know what to do,” Salinas said Thursday, as the team prepped for
the first scrimmage of the year, against Brownsville Pace on the road. “Expect some of
our stars to be out there for a lot of plays.”
Salinas and defensive coordinator Freddy Hernandez came up with the idea of
a one-platoon look for this year, as opposed to the usual two-tone lineup. This means
that practices have been divided up into offense and defense sessions, with defenders
manning spots on the other side of the ball and vice versa for the offensive players.
Hernandez notes that Hampton, a threat with super speed and hands, will make a
perfect part-time corner alongside quality starters Aaron Garcia and Ulises Umanzor.
“Hey, if he’s a hoss on offense, he should be able to fill in as a hoss at corner,”
said the ebullient veteran mentor, who thinks his Wrecking Crew Defense could be one
of the best in the league this fall. “Get those game-changers out there, I always say. Why
not live and die with the best?”
Along with Hampton, who did some twin work last year as a junior, look for
bruising tackling machine Victor Salinas, who has been moved down to end from his
former linebacker role, to lay some killer blocks as a fullback spelling regular Rey
“The kids were a little shell-shocked at the extra work at first,” said Salinas, who
brought the one-platoon look into the program’s spring sessions. “But once they got used
to the learning and conditioning, most of them seemed to be at home with the chance to
play both ways. The key is, you have to train them up to believe they really will see some
minutes on the other side of the ball. And this year they will be out there, trust me.”
Most teams go with separate units, meaning that they don’t develop as much
depth as they could under the old one-platoon way. In the ancient days of “60-Minute
Men,” pro and college players stayed on the field throughout the game, as illiberal
substitution rules and fewer members on each roster made these ideals a necessity.
But now, Econ is turning back the clock, developing their stars to retain double
the knowledge, in the hopes that when the outcome is about to turn on a single play, the
number-one kids will be there to make sure that play goes the Jag way.
“We did it some last year with Nelson and Andrew Fox, and they made some
huge contributions at key times,” Salinas recalled. “It doesn’t really mean taking too
many snaps away from the starters, it is more of a targeted approach where we maneuver
our personnel to give us the best chance of winning close games.”
The Jags are dead-set on breaking into the playoff hunt this year, after 2009’s
fast start disintegrated in the face of injuries, weak depth, and bad breaks. The coaches
believe that spot-playing their stars will pay dividends. Receiver Kasey Martinez is
another of the fellows who may do the two-step, gaining time in the secondary when he’s
not stretching enemy D’s with his breakaway speed at WR.
“Depth is the key, but you need to have guys who can step in and feel
comfortable, not ones who really don’t have the feel for what the position takes,” Salinas
stressed. “By having a bunch of kids work both ways, and making that the format of our
practices, we think that we’ll be OK when surprises happen.”
One such uh-oh has already transpired, as starting guard Aurelio Garcia has been
sidelined with a lingering back problem. Odds are that the gutty senior will not be able to
return in 2010, meaning that such veterans at the one-platoon effort like lineman Matthew
Mariscal and DE Justin Leija will have to be ready to jump in at a moment’s notice.
Though Econ has a bevy of promising O-line prospects on the varsity this year,
those good-size sophomores will need some time to get the hang of the speed and
physicality of the next level. In the meantime, the returning trenchers are on notice that
they have to know all assignments, O or D.
Hernandez says that having the services of Hampton, Martinez and the rest will
do two things. One, it will provide rest for starters, meaning fresh legs for the fourth
period. And two, it will allow him to do more with what he has.
“I think we’ll be more multiple than in the past here,” he noted. “With more
quality kids, we can bring some different looks at the offense, based on the personnel we
have out there on a given series of play. The more you can get offenses off balance and
confused, the more your best hosses can make big plays to turn a game around.”