When it came time to help LSU football in recruiting two-sport star Maurice Hampton of Memphis, it was baseball coach Paul Mainieri who stepped up to the plate.
Mainieri had been through it before at both of his major coaching stops before LSU, Air Force and Notre Dame. Working out the details hadn’t been an issue at LSU since the 2009 baseball season when football players Jared Mitchell and Chad Jones helped LSU to its last College World Series title.
At the suggestion of LSU safeties coach Bill Busch, Mainieri and his staff met with Hampton and his parents in football coach Ed Orgeron’s office, and Orgeron said that was the “turning point” in Hampton choosing to sign with LSU on Wednesday.
“I took a little of the lead of the conversation because I had the most experience,” Mainieri said Thursday. “It was a blunt and open conversation, that Ed had to sign off on everything we talked about.
“The football coach has to be the guy who drives the truck. He’s got to say, ‘I’m willing to support this’ because they’re on football scholarship. I’ve had (football) coaches say ‘I’m not letting the guy play baseball; I want him full time.’ I don’t think Mo Hampton would have come to LSU if Ed would have taken that stance.”
Mainieri agreed that if Hampton came to LSU he would “make it work” and have a place for him on the 35-man roster for the 2020 baseball season. Mainieri said he’s very familiar with Hampton who has visited the LSU campus and the baseball facilities “it seems like 100 times.”
To play both sports, Hampton would be unavailable to baseball for fall practice and would be limited during spring football, which usually ends in mid-April. That’s the mid-point in the SEC schedule. Mainieri said it’s a difficult double play to pull off.
“Baseball is really important to this young man,” Mainieri said. “He’s an excellent baseball player. I think he wants to see how good he can be at baseball. Ed made the choice; it was worth the gamble. (Hampton) will have to earn a starting spot (in baseball) just like everybody else.
“Mo’s a great kid, an exceptional athlete. It’s very difficult to play two sports, plus the academics plus the social life. It takes a really special athlete. My gut feeling is Mo has those qualities and excel in both sports. Time will tell.”
The issue may ultimately be moot if Hampton decides to turn down college altogether after the pro baseball in June. Considered a five-tool outfielder, he is ranked No. 27 among the top 50 potential draftees by MLB.com.
Hampton was Tennessee’s Mr. Football in Class 3A and rated the state's No. 1 overall football prospect by 247sports.com.
The situation is different than when Mainieri dealt with Mitchell and Jones. Mitchell was already a member of the LSU football team when Maineri was hired in 2007 and had already gone through the draft, where he was a 10th-round pick by the Twins in 2006 out of Westgate High School in New Iberia. Jones was a 13th-round pick by the Astros in 2007.
Mitchell ultimately quit football and was named College World Series MVP as LSU defeated Texas in the title series. He was the first-round pick by the Chicago White Sox that year.
Jones played a key role as a relief pitcher on that championship team after which he played his final football season. He was a third-round pick by the New York Giants as a junior, but a car crash derailed his career.
“With Mo I can see where baseball is in his blood,” Mainieri said. “For him to choose LSU it had to be an arrangement that clearly allowed him to play baseball. There’s a little more commitment to baseball, at least going into recruiting.”