With USF trailing by two sets against Tulane on Oct. 4, a frustrated Dakota Hampton stood up and got her teammates’ attention.
“This is ridiculous,” she told her team, which had lost 11 of 13 matches going into its meeting with the Green Wave. “We need to get up and we need to go win this.”
USF rallied for the victory in five sets.
An intense, passionate player, Dakota doesn’t like to lose. The competitive gene passed down from her father makes what would sicken typical athletes an unacceptable outcome for her.
Dakota’s father, NFL Hall-of-Famer Dan Hampton, played 12 seasons and was a member of what most call the greatest defense ever assembled, during the Chicago Bears’ 1985 Super Bowl run.
During that historic run, Dan’s team lost only once and he soon drew the iconic moniker, “Danimal,” for his ruthless intensity on the gridiron.
In his eyes, what made him great wasn’t his ferocious attitude, reckless abandon or even his exceptional athletic ability, but the culture he instilled first in himself and his daughter.
“When she was growing up, I really stressed to her the importance of a winning culture,” Dan said. “Believing in the things you have to do to win and to be successful.”
Dakota grew up around athletics, playing everything from golf and tennis to basketball and even baseball. As well rounded as they come, she could simply play any sport and win.
“In basketball, she was just like me, she had a horrible shot but was an amazing defender and rebounder,” Dan said of his 6-foot tall daughter. “In baseball, oh, my God, she had an (on-base percentage) of like 1.500. It was either a homerun or a triple every single time she was at bat. It was incredible.”
She began to quickly realize the passion she had for winning.
While driving her to a volleyball tournament during her junior year at Carl Sandburg High in Orland Park, Illinois — just outside the confines of Chicago — Dan heard his daughter say something that raised his ear. But the words didn’t come as a surprise at all.
“‘You know dad,’” Dan recalled her saying. “‘The other kids on the team, they don’t care as much as I do, and it really bothers me.’”
With that, Dan started laughing.
“I said ‘Dakota, the day your teammates care more than you do, that’s the day I’m going to get mad,’” he said. “All the players on the team should think, ‘I am the reason we are going to win today. I will be great today.’”
As great as her father was, the legendary image of him never sank in until his enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2002.
“I saw his (bust) and looked out at all of these people who came to see my dad get this award,” Dakota said. “I didn’t realize it as much while it was going on, but I look back at pictures and see how big of a deal that was for him.”
It didn’t take long for USF coach Courtney Draper to draw the comparison of Dakota to her father.
“She is one of the most competitive players I’ve ever coached,” said Draper, a Chicago native, who remembers watching Dan and the Bears’ Super Bowl victory when she was 7 or 8 years old.
“If you talked to his teammates and his coaches, they’d say the same.”
In her freshman season with the Bulls, Dakota played in the second-most sets and finished third on the team with 349 digs as an outside hitter.
When Dan is able to make the drive to Dakota’s games — like this past weekend’s matchup at Memphis, where she recorded a double-double in the Bulls’ 3-1 victory — he always tries to lurk in the shadows, not wanting to take away from his daughter’s success.
But standing at 6-foot-5, it’s hard for him not to draw attention in a crowd.
“It’s hard not to notice him,” Draper said. “He’s obviously one of the biggest guys in the crowd, and a lot of fans still know who he is and want their picture with him.
“He’s very gracious, but a quiet guy really.”
Getting to see Dakota play in person is one of Dan’s favorite pastimes. As quiet as he tries to be in the stands, sometimes his louder football personality shines through.
At a tournament in her hometown of Chicago, USF played at Northwestern with the Hampton crowd in attendance, including her father.
“When you’ve played in the NFL (for) 12 years like I have, my shoulders my wrist my hands, all that, are sore,” Dan said. “I sat in those wooden bleachers at Northwestern during that game and when they would make a good play I would bam, bam, bam beat on those bleachers with palms of my hands.
“I couldn’t hold a golf club for a month after that, I was so sore.”
With Dakota now some 1,100 miles away at USF, the means of communication may have changed between them, but the message has remained the same: just win.
“When you’re out there, it’s about winning.” Dakota said. “Every winning team has great players, and yeah you want to be a great player. But you want to win first.”