Stamps taking game to Louisiana-Monroe|[12/18/07]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Otis Stamps has made the most of every bad break in his football career.

In his first game playing for Hinds Community College, he tore a knee ligament. It made him work harder to get back in shape and prove he could play.

Coming out of high school at Warren Central, he signed with Southern University. Bad grades sent him to Hinds, where he became a starter for the best junior college secondary in the state. It also led him to his ultimate goal of a Division I-A scholarship.

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Stamps plans to sign with Louisiana-Monroe on Wednesday, the first day junior college players can sign with four-year schools. Stamps picked the Warhawks from among several Division I suitors.

“It wasn’t that hard of a decision because it was out of them, Arkansas State or Nicholls State. They kept in touch with me throughout the work I did with my knee,” Stamps said, adding that he stuck with ULM even after two coaches who recruited him, Kim Dameron and Ron Dickerson Jr., left to join Houston Nutt’s staff at Ole Miss. “I actually like the program. I liked how everything went on the visit and the coaches like me.”

It’s been a long and winding road for Stamps.

He earned a reputation as a solid cornerback at Warren Central after picking off 14 passes from 2003-04. He had eight interceptions in his senior season of 2004, when WC won the Region 2-5A championship.

Stamps wasn’t highly recruited, though, and signed with Southern — only to have bad grades come back to haunt him. He didn’t qualify academically and would have had to wait a year to enroll. Instead, former Vicksburg High rivals Rory Johnson and D’Eldrick Taylor recruited him to Hinds, where more bad luck befell Stamps.

After making several tackles and picking off a pass in his first game of the 2005 season, Stamps tore a posterior cruciate ligament.

“It really got me because I thought I was going to be able to get back in the game. Then I went to sprint and fell straight to the ground,” Stamps said.

The injury ended Stamps’ freshman season but also lit a fire under him. He said he heard whispers from some coaches doubting his ability to come back from the surgery, and it made him work harder. He put in extra time during summer workouts and earned a starting cornerback job a few games into the 2006 season. He finished with six interceptions, then added four more this season after getting a medical redshirt for a third year of eligibility at Hinds.

“I wasn’t here his freshman year, so I don’t know what his work ethic was like then. But since I’ve been here, he was always a guy that worked hard and paid attention. You could tell he wanted to learn every day,” said Shawn Garrick, who has been Hinds’ defensive backs coach the last two years. “He was always working to improve.”

Stamps expects to contribute immediately at Louisiana-Monroe. The Warhawks are losing two senior cornerbacks, Quintez Secka and Darrius Battles, and Stamps said he’ll have a chance to compete for a starting job next season. The top two returning corners were both freshmen in 2007.

Louisiana-Monroe finished with a 6-6 record that included a historic road win at Alabama, but ranked last in the Sun Belt Conference in pass defense after giving up an average of 260.8 yards per game. ULM led the Sun Belt in rushing defense and was third in total defense. Secka and Battles combined for 10 pass breakups — tying for the conference lead — and Secka had five interceptions.

“Their two senior cornerbacks are gone. One is coming up, but the other spot is open. I believe I can win that job after seeing them play the games I saw,” Stamps said. “I know I can go down there and play right away.”

Garrick didn’t doubt his star player.

“He doesn’t give up touchdowns. He does a good job not giving up the big plays,” Garrick said. “Otis has a higher understanding of how to play the position than a lot of guys. That’s why he’s successful and why he’s going to be successful on the next level. He’s a good athlete and can run, but he’s successful because he’s such a smart player.”