TAMPA — University of South Florida volleyball players Erin Fairs and Dakota Hampton met only last year, but they have a lot in common. For people they encounter, the reference point often becomes their fathers, who played in the NFL.
“It’s quite a coincidence,’’ Fairs said. “Maybe that’s where we get our competitiveness.’’
Either way, Fairs and Hampton are making names for themselves at USF.
The Bulls (11-10, 5-2, third place in the American Athletic Conference) are suddenly on a roll. They won at SMU and Houston over the weekend after capturing only two league road victories all of last season.
Fairs, a 5-foot-11 sophomore outside hitter from Richmond, Texas, who was named AAC player of the week for the second straight time, and Hampton, a 6-foot freshman outside hitter from Orland Park, Ill., who excels at passing and defense, are the most important components of coach Courtney Draper’s young team.
“Erin and Dakota never come off the court,’’ Draper said. “They know how to win. Winning is important to them. I guess it’s in their blood.’’
Hampton’s father, former Chicago Bears defensive lineman Dan Hampton, played 12 seasons and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002. Fairs’ father, former Houston Oilers and Atlanta Falcons linebacker Eric Fairs, played seven NFL seasons.
As an athlete, Hampton is her father’s daughter.
Draper recently quizzed her veterans on who they thought was USF’s most competitive player. Without hesitation, the answer was Hampton. Maybe it’s not surprising that her father once earned the nickname “Danimal’’ for his fierce style of play.
“Dakota gets fired up if she doesn’t win a drill,’’ Draper said. “If we have a loss, she takes it personally. I love to see that. She cares so much.’’
“I get that from both of my parents,’’ said Hampton, whose mother was a competitive softball player. “It’s not my personality off the court. But it definitely bothers me to lose. I know my father was the same way, even though I don’t actually remember him playing.’’
Draper remembers. So does her Chicago-based family members, who were big Bears fans and celebrated the “Super Bowl Shuffle’’ era. The recruitment of Hampton, which happened quickly last season when Draper was hired to USF from Eckerd College, was more of a coincidence. But the Midwestern ties helped Draper make a connection.
“We had everyone to my parents’ house when we played in the Northwestern tournament and Dakota’s father came, too, and I was so scared they were going to break out the pictures and videos from the Bears days,’’ said Draper, whose Bulls host Memphis on Friday night and Temple on Sunday afternoon. “They are such big fans. Dan Hampton is a pretty big name in that area. When he was watching Dakota play, he was constantly being asked for autographs and photos and he was very gracious.
“But mostly, he wants to stay in the background and observe. He’s very respectful of her space and very encouraging. He wants to be a quiet, supportive presence. He has taken an interest in our strength and conditioning approach because Dakota wants to become a more explosive athlete.’’
Meanwhile, Fairs’ explosive athletic ability was obvious from the moment Draper took the USF job. Early on, she was switched from middle blocker so her natural strengths could be exploited.
“Of course, you can always improve and that’s where my father has an influence,’’ said Fairs, whose mother played college basketball. “He can be hard on me sometimes. But he knows how I should train, how I can help my vertical (leap). He knows how to be mentally ready.
“He watches every match (online). I’d be crazy not to listen to him because he knows about being an athlete at the highest level. Maybe that’s why I’ve been able to bond so quickly with Dakota. We didn’t even know each other before, but now we realize that we’ve kind of lived the same life.’’
Competition, conditioning and an unrelenting thirst for success.
Like father, like daughter.