ARLINGTON, Texas — Monday’s Cotton Bowl Classic between Big 10 Power Wisconsin (10-3) and unbeaten upstart Western Michigan (13-0) set to air on ESPN at noon local time will feature a special local connection.
Butch Hampton addresses a crowd at a signing ceremony in Piedmont.
Piedmont native Butch Hampton will handle all the placekicking duties for Western Michigan and could play a big role in helping the Broncos, who are 7 1/2 point underdogs to the Badgers, pull the upset of bowl season.
Hampton will become the first Piedmont alum to play in a New Years Day or later bowl game.
Per team policy, Western Michigan freshmen football players weren’t allowed to speak to the media all season, so no one had heard from Hampton in an official capacity since he left for Kalamazoo last spring.
Saturday, Hampton talked to the media for the first time during Cotton Bowl Media Day. He spoke about the process of transforming from a player that was rarely relied upon in crucial situations in high school games to one that had to make kicks to keep an undefeated season alive, and the unusual steps Western Michigan head coach P.J. Fleck has taken to prepare him to kick under pressure. Read about those here.
“Coming in was terrifying, I was very nervous,” Hampton told mlive.com. “I was moving away from my home, away from my family and to be honest I had never kicked in a game where it actually, truly mattered — where I could affect the outcome of it.
“So to come into a team that’s expected to do great things this year and expected to start as a true freshman, it was very intimidating to me. I think that’s why it was so important, at the time I might not have understood it, but the things coach Fleck put me through, in hindsight I can see how those have probably been the most influential things my freshman year.”
His kicking exploits this season are well known around Piedmont by now, but bare repeating. Hampton has made 18 of 23 field goals with a long of 47 yards in the season opener at Northwestern and has also hit 70 of his 71 extra-point tries.
It’s fair to say Western might not be in this position without Hampton, as a single loss would’ve knocked them out of New Year’s Six Bowl contention.
In the Broncos’ Mid American Conference Championship game win over Ohio, he made five field goals and both of his PAT attempts en route to being named Special Teams Player of the Game in a 29-23 victory. That game clinched a Cotton Bowl Berth. He also made 3 of 4 field goals in a 22-21 win at Big 10 foe Northwestern in September.
“Coach challenged him in the summertime, and he’s just responded all year,” Western Michigan quarterback Zach Terrell said to mlive.com after the MAC Championship game. “There’s been some scenarios here and there where we kind of felt like he was losing his confidence a little bit, but he stepped up huge.”
Hampton was rated a 5-star kicker coming out of Piedmont, according to Chris Sailer Kicking, a website specializing in evaluating potential college kickers, punters and long snappers. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Army recruited him as a walk-on, but Hampton stuck by a year-long commitment to the Broncos.
“I know coach Fleck and I feel like a word is as good as a signature to him,” Hampton said. “I knew that he wasn’t going to take away my offer and I wasn’t going to take away my commitment from him so, it worked out for me, that’s for sure.”
He graduated high school early to join Western Michigan’s squad for spring practice to compete for the starting job. He won it by the fall and hasn’t looked back since.
“One thing about him is that he is an incredible competitor,” Fleck said. “He’s one of those guys who understands what he does wrong if it’s wrong and he understand what he does right when it’s right.
“He has an incredible feel for his kicking mechanics.”
Monday afternoon at Jerry World against No. 8 Wisconsin, Hampton will kick in front of a crowd expected to top 70,000, on the biggest stage of his young career. But he’s ready.
“The best feeling that I get when I go out there is knowing I can do my job regardless of the situation because I’ve been through more difficult situations,” Hampton said.