The Meridian Star
Hard work pays off was the message at Meridian High School on Monday as football standout CJ Hampton was selected to represent the school in the Army All-American Bowl. He is the first Wildcat in school history to be chosen.
"It's a big honor," he said at an honorary jersey presentation. "A lot of guys, really great guys, play the game well. But it's really big to be the first one (Wildcat) there. I'm proud, I'm happy that everyone has been here for me and helped me get here."
Only the best of the best are selected for the bowl. A selection committee sifts through nominations to name the top 90 high school prospects for the annual game held in San Antonio, Texas, each year.
The safety has been playing football his whole life, but said his first thought of a playing career beyond high school came in seventh grade. It was then he set goals he's now achieved.
"I've been working for a good minute to get to this point," Hampton said. "I wanted a scholarship ... and I wanted to be a US All-American in my senior year. You know, both of those things game true, so it's real big."
The Rivals.com four-star recruit has verbally committed to Ole Miss for next year.
Meridian head coach Larry Weems said he couldn't be happier for Hampton's bowl selection because of the hard work and dedication he has put into the game.
"I'm extremely proud for CJ," Weems said. "It's a reward for a lot, a lot, of hard work. Since he came up as a sophomore, a lot of hours running, in the weight room, training. Three years of hard work."
Weems doesn't just know the hard work Hampton has put in from being his high school coach, but said he is like a son. Hampton's father, Calvin, is the Meridian offensive line coach under Weems and therefore has grown up on the Wildcats' sideline. The honor means as much to Weems personally, as it does as recognition for the school’s football program.
"His dad is on my staff and we're all very close," he said. "When I came back here as the head coach in 2006, CJ was an elementary school student, just seeing him grow and being raised around our program with his dad the whole time, so he is like family. I'm extremely proud for the whole family. It just shows what opportunities may come if you just stay there and keep working."
Hampton said dedication and keeping his head up got him to where he is today and is the best piece of advice for younger players.
"Be a student of the game," he said. "When people tell you, you can't do something. Continue to do it ... Most of the time people you can't, they couldn't do it, so they don't want you to do it."
With Hampton's selection, Weems has been invited out for Bowl Week and attended the US Army Coaches Academy.
The Army All-American Bowl will be held on January 4, 2014, and will air live on NBC at noon local time (1 p.m. EST).