2022 Richmond vs Hampton

Hampton Preview: Pirates Land Ashore In CAA, Hope For Progress In Debut

Hampton Preview: Pirates Land Ashore In CAA, Hope For Progress In Debut

Though the Pirates aren't the only new kid in the CAA this season, Hampton football arguably brings more history and pedigree to the fray.

Aug 27, 2022 by Briar Napier
Hampton Preview: Pirates Land Ashore In CAA, Hope For Progress In Debut

Welcome to the party, Hampton.

Though the Pirates aren't the only new kid on the Colonial Athletic Association football block for this upcoming season (fellow former Big South Conference school Monmouth is hopping along for the ride, too), Hampton football arguably brings more history and pedigree to the fray.

An esteemed name among historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) for both academics and athletics, Hampton football is a household name to some but a bit of an unknown to others. That makes HU's presence in the CAA for this year unique, and just what's in store for the Pirates in their new home is totally up in the air.

For Hampton itself, however, it'll hope that its time in the CAA eventually will end like many seasons in its past: holding up trophies.

Here's a look at what Hampton football will bring to the gridiron for this season, as FloFootball previews every CAA football team ahead of this season's kickoff.

2021 season review: Hampton's three-year run in the Big South came to an end by way of a 5-6 overall record, including a 3-4 mark in league play last season. 

An entertaining offense that gained a Big South-high average of 410.7 yards per game was countered by the fact the Pirates had the league's worst defense at an eye-watering 430.1 yards allowed per game, with Hampton games often devolving into offensive shootouts in the worst of ways. 

Wide receiver Jadakis Bonds (773 receiving yards, six touchdowns) was named a two-time All-Big South first-team pick following the 2021 season, and for good reason, as the 6-foot-4 standout seems to be boosting his NFL Draft stock year after year. But even he couldn't do enough following his team's frequent defensive breakdowns to make up the difference most times, as the Pirates gave up at least 30 points in seven different games. 

Offense: Many CAA offenses are entertaining and love to put on a show. Hampton already fits into this mold heading into its first year in the league. 

The aforementioned Bonds, now a senior, is a stud and one of the top wideouts at the FCS level, but curiously enough was not picked to the Preseason All-CAA Team, despite his prior accolades. 

It very well could be the motivation he needs to rip secondaries to shreds in his new conference. 

Sophomore running back Elijah Burris (702 rushing yards, six touchdowns in 2021) also looked great in his first year with the Pirates, with the Big South recognizing the 5-foot-10 former North Carolina commit with the league's Offensive Freshman of the Year Award as a result. 

Any quarterback would love to have that combo to rely on in their arsenal, but one question remains for the Pirates in regard to that: who exactly will that be? 

Dual-threat signal caller Jett Duffey is gone, with redshirt freshman Christopher Zellous being the only other player who threw passes under center last season. He'll be the hunt for the starting job, along with a pair of new names in JUCO transfer Malcolm Mays - who tossed for over 2,700 yards and 26 touchdowns at Kilgore College in Texas this past season - and Houston transfer Sofian Massoud, a former three-star recruit who struggled to break through into the Cougars' lineup in the two seasons he was there.

Defense: With all the promise on the offensive end, why is Hampton projected to finish last in the CAA in the league's preseason poll

Well, the defense really was that bad last season. 

The Pirates' yards allowed per game ranked 101st in the FCS, but the pass defense was particularly dreadful at 271.2 allowed per game, which ranked last in the Big South by 20 yards and was the fifth-worst mark in America. 

That's not going to cut it in the CAA for long. 

Longtime collegiate assistant coach Chris Cosh, who has been the defensive coordinator at two different CAA schools in the past (Richmond and Delaware), was hired on to be Hampton's co-defensive coordinator, sharing the role with returning staffer Todd McComb. 

They're both going to need to mesh their brains together to come up with a new set of strategies for the new season and conference change ahead, because the Pirates are going to need it against some of the pass-happy offenses of the CAA. 

Nonetheless, there is some returning talent in the ranks. 

Take redshirt senior KeShaun Moore, for example, who led Hampton in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (13.5) a season ago. The defensive lineman proved himself to be a force on the interior, eventually earning his way onto the All-Big South second team. 

But with a Big South-low six interceptions and a brutally bad red-zone defense that allowed scores 87.5% of the time their opponent got to their 20-yard line, the Pirates have a lot of work ahead of them on the defensive side of the football in order to not be in danger of a rude welcome to the CAA.

Wild card: As one of the most successful HBCU football teams in history (having won a total of seven Black national championships), Hampton, like several HBCU athletic programs recently, is participating in the ever-changing world of college football realignment. 

However, the Pirates are taking arguably the biggest leap of their peers for this season in joining the CAA, which widely is considered to be one of the top FCS leagues in the country. And though HBCU leagues like the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference and Southwestern Athletic Conference are full of rich history and tradition, their participation in the Celebration Bowl (the de-facto Black college championship) and subsequent abstentions of sending their top teams to the FCS playoffs as auto bids mean that exposure against the best of the best in the FCS is limited. 

Hampton bucked this trend by joining the Big South in 2018, and after a cup of coffee in that league, where it was eventually joined by another HBCU, North Carolina A&T, found itself in the CAA for the year ahead. 

The move should give the Pirates more consistent cracks at the FCS playoffs, which they haven't played in since 2006, and a schedule that meshes some of the best of the division with old HBCU adversaries. 

How quickly Hampton adjusts to the new schools on the slate is another story entirely.

Game To Watch: Hampton Vs. Howard, 6 p.m. (Eastern), Sept. 3 (link above)

Following no games missed between the two of the biggest rivals in HBCU football from 1994-2017, Howard and Hampton finally get to play each other for consecutive seasons again in "The Real HU," after drama and a global pandemic threw some hijinks into making the game happen on two recent occasions. 

The first instance was in 2018, when Hampton, which left the MEAC for the Big South prior to that season, claimed its former league was barring the team from playing MEAC opponents as a punishment for making the switch, resulting in no Howard-Hampton game for that season. 

Though the two teams met for a neutral-site clash in Chicago in 2019, the COVID-19-impacted 2020 season resulted in the Pirates not fielding a team for that year. Once again, no new iteration of rivalry. 

The game returned again for 2021 with a Hampton win - its fifth straight over Howard - at Washington D.C.'s Audi Field, and the teams will kick off their 2022 campaigns with a showdown at the Pirates' Armstrong Stadium this time around. 

The Bison struggled last season, going 3-8 overall, with only two of those wins coming against D-I opponents, but it wasn't long ago Howard had beaten Hampton four consecutive times from 2011-2014, either. 

As always in The Real HU, the teams will have their work cut out for them in an electric environment.