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Omarion Hampton leads the Tar Heels to 59-7 win over Campbell with dominant performance

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UNC sophomore running back Omarion Hampton (28) attempts a touchdown during the football game against Campbell on Saturday, Nov. 4, 2023, in Kenan Stadium. UNC won 59-7.

Walking into the postgame press conference wearing slides and sporting a nonchalant expression, one might have thought it was just an ordinary game for Omarion Hampton.

It wasn't.

In the Tar Heels' Saturday afternoon 59-7 victory over the Campbell Camels, the sophomore running back raced past the 1,000-yard threshold for rushing yards over a single season, becoming the fastest Tar Heel to do so since Giovani Bernard in 2012. 

Hampton’s 144 yards against Campbell is the fourth consecutive 100-plus yard game for the Clayton native. So, it should come as no surprise that Hampton leads the ACC in total rushing yards, touchdowns and average rushing yards per game.

Hampton is still not satisfied though. 

“It’s a good honor and everything, I just know I have to keep pushing and keep getting better," he said directly after taking the podium. 

Despite his quick ascent to the 1,000-yard threshold, head coach Mack Brown said he thought with Hampton’s skill set, he would have reached it last year. But, because of a sprained ankle, ball protection issues and an offensive scheme that heavily emphasized the Drake Maye air raid, Hampton found himself sitting behind Elijah Green on the depth chart.

He also had issues carrying the ball, dropping it in a key moment during last year’s ACC championship game at the 24-yard line, and recording three fumbles over the season. 

But those ball protection challenges are now just a distant memory, as Hampton now boasts the most rush attempts in the nation without a fumble. 

And, he's continuing to improve. 

Hampton found holes in the Campbell defensive line all day, notching two touchdowns: a 54-yard sprint down the right side and a 4-yard end zone crash. Hampton would’ve scored three touchdowns if not for a holding penalty that called back a 75-yard run into the end zone. 

“He’s a great player — we get in trouble sometimes, I may miss a block, someone misses a block and he’ll shrug them right off and go take it for 60 yards,” said junior tight end Bryson Nesbit. “He’s a special guy.”

The run game for the Tar Heels has come a long way since last year. At the end of 2022, it ranked sixth in the ACC and featured sophomore quarterback Drake Maye as the leading rusher in attempts. Now, it has jumped to third with the help of Hampton.

An increased reliance on the ground game as a whole has propelled the UNC offense to second-best in the conference in average points per game behind Florida State, and the best in total yards per game — something that Brown has pointed to as being critical to the Tar Heels' success.  

“The biggest thing is to win college football games you have to stop the run and run the damn ball,” said Brown.

It's safe to say Hampton has been running the damn ball. 

Headed into Saturday, Hampton was tied with Texas’ Jonathon Brooks for seventh-most rushing yards in the FBS. Hampton has been named ACC Running Back of the Week twice and is on the Maxwell Award Watch List, awarded to the best player in college football.  

But Hampton couldn't do it alone. If there’s one other essential piece, it’s the leader of the running back room: graduate British Brooks. 

Hampton draws from Brooks' experience and uses the strength and confidence of the veteran as inspiration for his own game.  

“British is one of the best people I’ve ever been around, and a great teacher,” said Brown. “And Omarion, as he gains confidence, he would tell you he looks at British for everything he does.”  

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As the season draws on, Hampton will be looking to continue learning from Brooks, improving his game and helping lead the Tar Heels to more definitive wins. 

But most of all, he doesn't want to simply fall into the trap of complacency after achieving the milestone. 

After all, he said there's only one thing he's aiming to do for the rest of the year: "Try and achieve more goals." 

@gracegnugent

@dthsports | sports@dailytarheel.com