Staking his claim

Ohio junior safety Jarren Hampton reacts after a big play during a win at Western Michigan in the 2018 season. Hampton is trying to lock down one of the Bobcats' two starting safety spots in 2019.

It wasn’t a hard play, exactly, but it’s the kind of play that doesn’t happen often in practice when it involves Nathan Rourke.

During a live-action scrimmage portion of Friday’s practice inside Walter Fieldhouse, Rourke — Ohio’s starting QB — was trying to finish off a red-zone possession. It appeared a tight end, running down the middle of the field was open, but Rourke’s pass was a touch under thrown.

There, to make a leaping interception while falling into the end zone, was junior safety Jarren Hampton. Hampton, a fourth-year junior, turned in the only turnover and the biggest defensive play during the 30 plays or so of game-speed scrimmaging. It was also further proof that Ohio will have another former walk-on in place as a starter when the 2019 season begins.

Hampton, a Fremont Ross HS graduate and from Fostoria, Ohio, is penciled in right now to start opposite All-MAC safety Javon Hagan in the Bobcats’ defensive backfield. Hampton was placed on scholarship for the spring semester after competing for two full seasons as a walk-on.

“He’s been outstanding,” said Ohio safeties coach and defensive coordinator Ron Collins. “We’ve had great walk-ons in the past. (Former starting safety) Devin Jones was a walk-on. You can go on down the line. A.J. Ouellette is one everyone knows, but we’ve had a bunch.”

Hampton, technically, was a starter in 2018 as well. He opened the season along side Kylan Nelson as Hagan recovered from an injury in fall camp. He had career-high seven tackles, one forced fumble and three pass breakups against Howard in the 2018 season opener.

For the season, Hampton played as a backup and on special teams. He finished with 25 tackles, tied for the team lead with two interceptions and had five pass breakups.

Over the last two years, Hampton has appeared in 23 games. The 5-11, 190-pounder is now operating from the top spot on the depth chart at one of the two safety positions.

“We saw his athletic ability at first, and he’s just continued to develop,” Collins said. “Last year he got thrown into the fire a little bit.

“He got through that, he continued to develop. He’s played a lot, and he continues to do a good job out here this spring.”

Hampton’s pick highlighted the abbreviated scrimmage. There were two live two-minute drill series, and then roughly 10 snaps apiece for the three quarterbacks — Rourke, redshirt freshman Joe Mischler, and freshman Kurtis Rourke — in a series of a down-and-distance drives down the field.

Many frontline or expected players were held out of portions, or entirely, from the live-action portion of practice. It has been a consistent theme of the spring. Given the viewing angle from inside Walter Fieldhouse, keeping a full tally of every play was not possible.

But listed below are some thoughts, notes and a few standouts from the scrimmage. Ohio wraps up the spring season on Saturday, April 13 with a practice inside Peden Stadium. It will be open to the public. The practice will have portions of game-speed, down-and-distance scrimmaging, but it will not be a full-fledged ‘game.’

As for Friday’s scrimmage, here’s what I saw…

Hampton’s pick stopped the one-vs-one two-minute drill possession. Kurtis Rourke piloted the 2s against 2s possession and got the offense to a first-and-goal inside the five. But the defense came up with four straight stops, including OLB T.J. Robinson breaking up a fourth-down pass, to prevent the go-ahead score.

I counted two clear ‘sacks’ (QBs weren’t hit) during the scrimmage. DE Austin Conrad and DE Sam McKnight sacked Nathan and Kurtis Rourke, respectively.

The scrimmage had a limited sample size, with limited aspects of the offense focused on. Running plays were rare, but both sophomore walk-on Jonathan Barna and redshirt freshman O’Shaan Allison provided some punch. Barna spun out of a pile up at the line of scrimmage and reeled off a 40-yard run. Allison had two runs go for double figures; once he navigated a clean crease up the middle for 10 yards, and then bounced a power play to the right sideline for 12.

There was one touchdown scored. Mischler dropped in a 14-yard touchdown to backup TE Chandler Dietz to cap a scoring drive set up by Barna’s big run.

Redshirt WR Shane Hooks had two short catches, on curl routes, that he turned into 15 and 14-yard gains by slithering past the first defensive back.

Redshirt WR Tyler Walton has his most explosive ‘live’ play of the spring with a 20-yard completion on a short in route.

Defensively, two players in particular caught my eye with their ability to fit well — and hard — into the run game. Robinson filled well from his weak side spot, and safety Alvin Floyd — currently running the second team in tandem with redshirt freshman Isaac Gill — had three emphatic stops from the secondary.

Email at jarkley@athensmessenger.com; follow on Twitter @JasonAmessenger

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