Hampton Ready for Next Step in Building Process


Derian Williams-Sturdivant led Hampton with 18 assists in a 6-5 campaign last season. The Pirates return their top five scorers.

Technically, Hampton is in the midst of fall ball for the first time under Rashad Devoe.

Realistically, he knows there’s another term for the Pirates’ initial month or so on the field with their new coach.

“It’s really camp,” Devoe said. “You’ve gone back to before recruiting camps, before club teams, where they tell you they’re going to help you work on your skills. It really is about us getting back to basics and fundamentals.”

It was nearly four years ago when Hampton launched its program amid praise and celebration. It was (and remains) the lone historically black college or university (HBCU) to field a Division I men’s lacrosse team and the first to do so since Morgan State dropped its program in 1981. ESPN sent SportsCenter to broadcast on campus before the first game.

The Pirates’ arrival was rightfully hailed as a significant development in a sport that has worked to improve its diversity over the last two decades. But after that splashy debut, the program has operated quietly and not generated much attention.

Hampton has played a partial schedule, posting a 12-25 record in four seasons against a mix of programs across divisions. The Pirates are 0-12 against Division I opponents over that stretch.

Last year reflected that mixed bag; Hampton went 6-5 to record its first winning season, but was outscored 75-24 in losses to Furman, NJIT and VMI, its three Division I opponents.

Devoe’s arrival coincides with an important scheduling step for the Pirates, who expect to play exclusively Division I opponents by 2021.

“My plan is to go eight D-I's this year and a full D-I schedule next year,” Devoe said. “That’s my plan. It’s time to jump in with both feet. It helps in recruiting. It’s hard to recruit when people say ‘You have six D-I games and the other place has 14 or 17.’”

What the Pirates could ultimately develop into remains a bit of an unknown, given the program’s gradual approach the last few years. But when founding coach Lloyd Carter retired after last season, Devoe was eager to take a look when Hampton reached out to him.

“The appeal of the job was helping to get an HBCU their first Division I win and making them a competitive D-I team nationally,” Devoe said. “That challenge is something that really got to me. I’ve been following the team for a few years and saw their growth and saw their potential and saw everything that was laid out. I felt like that would be a great challenge.”

Devoe has accepted many assignments as his career has taken him across the country over the last decade. He spent time as a Division III assistant at Southwestern (in Texas) and Colby College (in Maine) before taking over his own program at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

That three-year run ended when he went back to New England to become the head coach at the Naval Academy Prep School last year. But the chance to coach at Hampton was too good to pass on despite  what Devoe readily acknowledges was an excellent and rewarding situation at NAPS.

Now comes his first D-I gig, with a program that is relatively inexperienced in both its history and its roster. An upshot? Hampton had the eighth lowest percentage of starts lost to graduation, and the 10th-lowest percentage of points.

And in this case, youth also translates to eagerness as the Pirates seek to grow their program.

“I’ve just been so excited with what’s been going on with the team,” Devoe said. “Our guys are so unselfish and so willing to work.”

Hampton isn’t the biggest team physically, which means its best bet — at least for now — is to lean on athleticism and speed and hone its stick work to generate offense with precision and develop a cohesive defense.

Once again, Devoe’s back-to-basics message in his first fall resonates.

“We have to be precise and execute really well,” Devoe said. “Being a young team, lacrosse IQ comes into the equation. Our offensive system is kind of like a read option, so we kind of call it pick-your-poison.”

Fall Ball Focus

The top five scorers are back, and it’s a group Hampton can build around. Perhaps the best reason for long-term optimism is the Pirates have an offensive core that will be around for at least two more years.

Lonnie Jones, who Devoe describes as a “ball of energy” had 23 goals and 16 assists as a freshman last season. Junior Pierce Johnson is coming off a 20-goal, 14-assist season. Junior Derian Williams-Sturdivant posted a team-high 18 assists. Sophomore Jordan Brown and junior Elliott Johnson III delivered 17-point seasons.

The defensive priority is simply settling down. Keeping with the camp theme, Hampton has emphasized the basics throughout the fall. On defense, that means simply getting everyone on the same page.

“We’re all about being more efficient and being a little bit more poised,” Devoe said. “The first few days at practice, we were very frantic on defense — not poised. That’s what we’re doing this fall, being poised. They talk really well, but if I’m speaking French and you’re speaking Spanish, you’re communicating but you’re not understanding. It’s about getting understanding and trust.”

Hampton has a couple interesting trips locked in this season. As part of expanding the schedule to include more Division I teams, the Pirates will visit both Utah and Jacksonville this season. Devoe’s debut will be Feb. 1 at NJIT.

At the same time, Devoe knows Hampton will face some scheduling difficulties until it can prove it can be competitive with Division I teams. That’s the key step in other programs viewing the Pirates as a scheduling asset rather than a drain on their strength of schedule and RPI.

“We understand it’s a process,” Devoe said. “It’s going to be a couple years and we have to do our job first before we can make that happen.”

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