Without a single offer out of high school, Mason Hampton still had confidence he could play major-college football. After all, there was a template for him to follow.
Hampton walked on at Boise State three years ago out of Meridian High, willing to work not just for a scholarship, but for a roster spot. A center, he had a perfect role model in the Broncos’ starter that fall — Council High grad Matt Paradis, now a Super Bowl champion as a starter on the Denver Broncos’ offensive line.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’” Hampton said. “I knew the track history, wanted to try to be the next guy like that here.”
Like Paradis, Hampton found his spot at center after experimenting elsewhere. As freshmen, it was defense for Paradis and guard for Hampton. Both thrived in practices, earning scholarships their sophomore seasons.
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Now a junior, Hampton is a front-runner to replace the graduated Marcus Henry as a starter on the Broncos’ offensive line. He has played in all 27 games the past two seasons in a backup role.
“I’d love to make those guys proud — Marcus and Matt really took me under their wing when I got here — to be able to continue what they’ve established,” Hampton said.
Coach Bryan Harsin said Hampton would have earned his first start in last season’s opener against Washington when Henry had an injury, but the veteran “willed himself” back into the lineup.
“Mason’s done a real nice job, been very happy with him,” Harsin said. “I like his demeanor, his communication. He’s taken on that leadership role on the offensive line you have to have at that center position. What I’ve seen from what he did last year to where he is now, being in position to really go out and take that center job, he’s doing a good job competing.”
Hampton is tailor-made to play center for Boise State’s sophisticated offense. In December, the accounting major was given the team’s Academic Achievement Award. The 6-foot-3, 290-pounder also was the offseason testing champion, posting the top back squat (666 pounds), power clean (383) and second-best hang clean (383).
“School and sports, the weightlifting part, too, luckily those are the two big things Mom and Dad always had me focus on,” Hampton said.
A key this offseason, Hampton said, is taking those gains, those big showings in the football facility onto the blue.
“I’ve got to keep doing a better job of translating that weight room strength to the field, because there’s lots of kinds of strength,” Hampton said. “That’s maybe what’s held me back the most, just have to really work on that technique. It’s tedious, but if you break that mental cycle, really focus on fixing those little things, it’ll pay off.”
This spring, as the Broncos experiment with variety, Hampton has worked a bit at guard. He said he’s ready for any competition wherever it may be on the field.
“I’ve seen it myself. Nothing’s ever just given to you here, so I have to work for it, and I’m going to try to get it,” Hampton said.