DeKALB – After spending NIU’s spring camp as the No. 1 quarterback, Aurora Christian graduate Ethan Hampton said he’s not exactly planning on handing the starting job back to Rocky Lombardi without a fight.
“[The mindset is to] compete. Make him better, make our team better,” Hampton said. “I want to put a lot of stress on him. He’s one of my best friends, but by competing you make each other better, and that’s really important.”
It was nice to step into that role when Rocky is out. I just took advantage of my opportunity. Every day came in with the mindset to dominate. Every day came in with the mindset to make our team better.”— Ethan Hampton, NIU quarterback
Lombardi was limited throughout the spring after missing most of the 2022 season because of injury. Hampton also missed a chunk of 2022 after filling in for Lombardi in four games, but he was able to return to full strength for spring.
Hampton, a redshirt sophomore, said he liked the way the team looked this spring, even without Lombardi, a seventh-year senior in his third year with the Huskies.
“It was nice to step into that role when Rocky is out,” Hampton said. “I just took advantage of my opportunity. Every day came in with the mindset to dominate. Every day came in with the mindset to make our team better.”
Lombardi started the first three games last year. Hampton came on in relief against Vanderbilt, then started the next three games until he was hurt against Toledo.
It is team policy not to disclose the nature of injuries or even if players are injured.
Hampton threw for 798 yards, completing 59% of his passes with seven touchdowns and six interceptions before the injury. This spring, he and running back Antario Brown were named co-MVPs of the offense.
Head coach Thomas Hammock said Hampton worked this offseason with a private quarterbacks coach, gaining upper and lower body strength. But his biggest leap, Hammock said, came in the mental aspects of playing the position.
“I think he has a better understanding of coverages, how people are going to attack him,” Hammock said. “He’s no longer just trying to do his job. When you play quarterback, you’ve got to get 10 other guys on the field organized. I think when you make that jump as a quarterback, you give yourself a chance to play good football.”
Hampton made one start in 2021, going 4 for 10 for 23 yards in a loss to Western Michigan in the Huskies’ MAC championship season.
Eric Eidsness, NIU’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, said Hampton has grown since that start as a true freshman.
“I think he’s had a really good spring,” Eidsness said. “This has really been his first spring. Last year he was injured and missed all of the spring. His confidence level has gone up. Just seeing defenses, understanding what he wants to do against them, has really grown. ... From where he started, his first game against Western Michigan a couple of years ago to now is night-and-day difference.”
Getting snaps with the first team also has improved Hampton’s leadership ability, Eidsness said.
“Not only the reps, but the leadership role,” Eidsness said. “When your teammates look to you and have confidence in you, they look at you differently when you’re taking all the first-string reps. There’s a responsibility that goes along with that, and I thought he did a good job of preparing and being ready every day.”
Hampton said he likes the improvement the Huskies showed throughout the strong, offensively and defensively. He said he thinks the team will be even better when it adds a few more transfers and true freshmen in the summer.
Eidsness said Hampton is ready for the season and is ready to go in whatever role the team needs him.
“I think he’s going to come out and continue to compete,” Eidsness said. “I think the difference when he approaches this year from last year, I think he realizes he’s one play away from playing. He’s got to come out and compete, prepare like he’s the starter and be ready for whatever is called.”