HAMPTON — Hampton’s first year as a member of the CAA last year was a brutal one. The Pirates finished 4-7 and 1-7 in the conference in 2022 and are hoping that a year of experience in the league will help this season.
Coming out of fall camp, sixth-year coach Robert Prunty is as confident as he’s ever been since he took over.
“This is by far the best camp I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Prunty said.
Prunty and his coordinators have built a roster with plenty of depth and they’re all excited by how hard the team has worked throughout the summer.
“This is a hard-working bunch,” Prunty said. “Just their relationships, their brotherhood, this bunch is a hard-working bunch and they care about each other.”
Hampton opens its season on the road in the HBCU Brick City Classic against Grambling State at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey. The Pirates are 6-2 all time against Grambling State and are currently on a five-game win streak, though the two teams haven’t played each other since 2006. Kickoff for this rendition of the matchup is scheduled for 3 p.m., and the game will be televised on NFL Network.
The matchup is one of the two games Hampton will play in an MLS Stadium this year, with the second coming in the Pirates’ rivalry game with Howard. The Battle for the Real HU will take place at Audi Field — home of D.C. United.
The Pirates defense was the better of the two units last year, ranking No. 6 in the CAA, giving up 27.1 points per game. There is certainly room for improvement, though, as Hampton’s defense ranked in the middle of the pack by giving up 5.9 yards per play (eighth in the CAA) and an average of 389 total yards per game (ninth)
All-CAA linebacker Qwahsin Townsel will lead the charge on defense for the Pirates. The Villanova transfer led Hampton with 100 tackles in his first season with the Pirates last year. During practice he already looks to be in mid-season form and will anchor a veteran linebacker group alongisde fellow graduate students Mason King and DeAndre Faulk.
Hampton’s secondary also returns a wealth of experience, even after losing All-CAA defensive back Ali Shockley to graduation. Corey Wilson, Stanley Garner and Byron Perkins are all experienced players who will lead the backside of co-coordinators Todd McComb and Brandon Williams’ defense in 2023.
On offense, Hampton is entering its third year in coordinator Zack Patterson’s system. Patterson said during fall camp that an emphasis has been on finding scoring opportunities. Last year Hampton scored 20 points per game, putting it at No. 12 in the CAA.
The Hampton offense will be missing its bigger producer from the past few seasons in wide receiver Jadakis Bonds. But HU returns both quarterbacks that started last year along with it’s leading rushers and a deep receiver room.
Graduate student, 6-0, 225, LB
There is an argument to be made that Townsel is the best player on the defense and even Hampton’s entire roster. After transferring in from Villanova last year he led the Pirates and was second in the CAA with 100 tackles. He finished his first year with Hampton on the CAA second-team defense and was named to the Preseason CAA Football Defensive Team last month. Townsel also made the 2023 Black College Football Player of the Year Award Watch List. The veteran will anchor a trio of experienced starting linebackers for Hampton this fall.
Jr., 6-1, 195, DB
Hampton may have lost a standout defensive back Ali Shockley this offseason to the pros, but it returns Wilson, and others, in the secondary. Wilson, a Phoebus High alum, finished fifth on the team in tackles last year and had the seventh-highest Pro Football Focus defense grade of all Pirates who played more than 50 snaps. He may have only tallied one interception, but Wilson’s PFF coverage grade was the second best on the team last year.
Graduate student, 6-2, 230, LB
The Suffolk native will likely be lined up next to Townsel for most, if not all, of the 2023 season. Last year Faulk was third on the team in tackles with 76. Faulk also was top-10 on the team in PFF grades for overall defense, run defense, tackling, pass rush and coverage.
Redshirt Jr., 6-0, 170, WR
Thompson’s stats from last year may not jump off paper, but this year he’ll need to take the jump. The Newport News native was second in receiving on the team last year with 278 yards and two touchdowns. Prunty brought in several transfer wide receivers this year but it’ll help to have Thompson, who has the extensive experience in offensive coordinator Zack Patterson’s system.
Redshirt sr., 5-10, 185, RB
Butts was Hampton’s leading rusher last year and will have the opportunity to do so again in 2023. The Suffolk native ran for 525 yards and three touchdowns. He was part of a one-two punch with Elijah Burris last season and could be in a similar situation again.
Can HU replace Jadakis Bonds?: The short answer to this question is simple: no. Both Patterson and Prunty have been open during camp that they won’t ever be able to replicate a standout athlete like Bonds. Bonds led the Pirates last year with 855 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He was targeted 97 times and brought in 51 catches, all while accounting for just over 25% of the Pirates’ total points last season. Hampton returns it’s No. 2, No. 3 and No. 5 receivers from last year in Thompson, Romon Copeland and Kymari Gray and also adds graduate transfers in Rutgers’ Paul Woods, Georgetown’s Dorrian Moultrie and Delaware State’s Bizzet Woodley. The hope is someone among those six will step up to be the new go-to guy or the targets are spread out among them.
Finding in a tough schedule: The CAA — renamed the Coastal Athletic Association from Colonial Athletic Association — has become a buzz saw in recent years. The conference produced five FCS playoff teams last season. It won’t be any easier this year, as a whopping seven of Hampton’s 11 opponents are either ranked in the AFCA/FCS Coaches Top 25 or received votes. William & Mary (No. 4), Richmond (No. 16) and Delaware (No. 21) are the ranked teams and Elon, North Carolina A&T, Howard and Campbell all received votes. Last year, Hampton finished 4-7, with just one of those wins coming in conference play.
Quarterback battle: Just like last season, Hampton’s quarterback battle is expected to go down to the wire. Malcolm Mays and Chris Zellous were used in tandem for some of the 2022 season before an injury to Zellous made Mays the main starter. Mays finished last year with 1,574 passing yards along with 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. This offseason Hampton added Delaware State transfer Jared Lewis. In four years with the Hornets, Lewis finished with 2,376 passing yards and 31 touchdowns. Prunty said Mays, Zellous and Lewis have shown signs they could lead the offense and the starter will likely be a “game-time decision.”
Hampton 2023 Schedule
Sept. 2 vs. Grambling State at Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey, 3 p.m.
Sept. 9 vs. Norfolk State, 6 p.m.
Sept. 16 vs. Howard at Audi Field, Washington, 3:30 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Richmond, 2 p.m.
Oct. 7 vs. Campbell, 2 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Monmouth, 1 p.m.
Oct. 21 vs. Delaware, 2 p.m.
Oct. 28 vs. North Carolina A&T, 2 p.m.
Nov. 4 at Maine, 1 p.m.
No. 11 vs. William & Mary, 1 p.m.
Nov. 18 at Elon, 1 p.m.
Michael Sauls, firstname.lastname@example.org, (757) 803-5774