Stampley enters first season at Illinois with something to prove

Stampley enters first season at Illinois with something to prove

URBANA — Dominic Stampley readily admits he plays with a chip on his shoulder. His teammates and coaches see it, too.

Illinois redshirt senior Mikey Dudek is quick to point out what Stampley brings in terms of speed and energy at wide receiver. Dudek also doesn't hesitate when noting how hard the Centennial graduate works at his craft. And he admits the junior-college transfer will "play a lot" for Illinois this season.

"I think he's probably always had a chip on his shoulder," Illinois wide receivers coach Andrew Hayes-Stoker added.

"He's probably always been the runt of the pack and probably always been the guy that's trying to get squeezed out of the table.

"He's always had that mentality. I hope he continues to have that and play the game with it. He uses it well. He's a guy that always comes to the field with a lot of energy. He plays intensely, and the opponent can't take a play off with a guy like him."

Stampley's path from Centennial to Coffeyville Community College to Illinois wasn't free of obstacles. His grades out of high school sent him the junior-college route. It's in southeastern Kansas — nine hours from home and everything he knew — where Stampley found out he could handle those obstacles.

"I learned I'm way stronger than what I really thought I was," he said. "You get in different situations like that where you can't call on your parents, can't call on friends from back home, and you see how strong you are when you're all alone, back against the wall. I had to do anything to try to make it."

Stampley redshirted his first year at Coffeyville and started to get his academics in order. He played in 10 games for the Red Ravens in 2017, with most of his production for the season coming in a four-reception, 134-yard performance against Iowa Central Community College.

The work Stampley put in off the field at Coffeyville made transferring back home a possibility when Illinois needed a wide receiver this summer. He saw plenty of players filter in and out of junior-college football.

"Some guys come there for many different reasons, whether it's grade issues like me or were just under-recruited out of high school," Stampley said. "You've got a lot of guys in there with a lot of talent. You've got to find what you can find out about yourself to separate from the pack.

"It's a lot of people that wouldn't be able to be in my shoes and make it this far. I stuck it out through all the hard times and finally made it."

Stampley's chance to play at Illinois, though, is something he wasn't always sure he'd be able to accomplish.

"It was back and forth, honestly," he said. "Some days were better than others. There were a lot of days where I wasn't sure about who I was or what I was going to be able to do, but I stuck it out and had faith. All praise to God, I'm here today."

And now the 5-foot-10, 175-pound receiver is showing the Illini what he can do on it during his first training camp. Stampley is his harshest critic, but he's taken reps since day one as Dudek's backup in the slot.

"I feel like I could be better," Stampley said. "I'm making plays, but I hold myself to a way higher standard. I feel like I could do a lot more out here. I'm trying to learn every day and perfect my craft and give my boys the best chance to win."

Hayes-Stoker wants Stampley to focus on the fine details. He has the athleticism to fit into offensive coordinator Rod Smith's offense. Understanding the entire offense better is the next undertaking.

"For him, it's timing," Hayes-Stoker said. "It's understanding when to do things and when not to do things and understanding his surroundings.

"When I say surroundings, it's understanding where he fits in the coverage when it's zone, where he needs to be sitting or where he needs to run away in man. The details of the position are the areas he needs to really clean up. As far as an athlete and somebody that physically can do the job, he has all the tools to do that."

Stampley's official Illinois career is still just 14 days old. As a blueshirt scholarship player, he couldn't join the team until the start of training camp. The waiting was the hardest part, but the Illini's media day Friday at Memorial Stadium — where he got the chance to put his jersey on for the first time — was certainly an "I have made it" moment.

"It was just a long wait, honestly," Stampley said with a smile. "I was ready to get in the big house for the longest. We've got some great uniforms. That's another thing I've never really had. Coming up in junior college, things were good, but University of Illinois is better."