March 17, 2014
Xavier Dampeer will begin a new chapter of his football career when spring practice opens Tuesday (Phillip Marshall photo)
By Phillip Marshall
AUBURN, Ala. – Sometimes, when times are tough, Xavier Dampeer thinks about his mother back in his hometown of Mendenhall, Miss. He thinks about his older brother and three older sisters.
Dampeer, who signed with Auburn in December out of Copiah-Lincoln Community College and enrolled in school in January. He’ll be a center when the Tigers open spring practice Tuesday. For Dampeer, football is more than a game he loves, more even than an opportunity to get an education. It’s a mission.
When Anthony Dampeer died too young, only Xavier was still living at home with his mother, Shirley. He watched his mother work two jobs to keep things together when he was in high school.
“I had some hard times family-wise,” Dampeer says. “I’m working on getting my family out of the situation they are in right now. That’s one of my missions, even though I play this game for the love of it. I’ve played this game when I was little.
“My mom has made so many sacrifices for me that I can’t even describe,” Dampeer says. “I really want to repay her for that. The (offseason) workouts were real tough, but I know I’m going to be all right and I know I’m not going to quit. At the end of the day, I will make my mom proud.”
Dampeer, 6-foot-2 and 300-plus pounds, was a defensive lineman as a freshman at Copiah-Lincoln and had to be talked into moving to offense. The move resulted in an offer from Auburn, where offensive line coach J.B. Grimes saw him as a center who could take over when senior Reese Dismukes is gone.
“A, you get a big guy. He’s 300-plus pounds,” Grimes says. “B, you get a strong guy who has legitimate numbers in the weight room. Then you get an accurate snapper. And, oh yeah, he has athleticism and can run. Those are the makings of a very good center.
“With Reese Dismukes, we have as good a center as there is in the country. You are brining one along you feel like you can mold and shape into a very good player, and he can learn from one of the best in the country.”
After Dampeer’s father died, there was little sign that he would play football in the Southeastern Conference. He was, by his own admission, floundering. That’s when Johnny Willis and his family opened their home and their hearts.
Willis, a defensive coach at Mendenhall High School, had coached Dampeer in youth football and had three sons and daughter of his own. Dampeer and Willis’ son Tevin were classmates.
“After his father died, he became a drifter, just out there, no concerns,” Willis says. “I kind of took him under my wing. We just grew close. He became my fourth son. He stayed at my house the majority of the time. I worked with him and taught him.”
A former Navy man, Willis preached discipline to Dampeer in the same way he did to his own children. And Dampeer responded.
“He’s all about discipline,” Dampeer says. “He took me in as his own son. A lot of men wouldn’t have done that. I wasn’t always easy to deal with. I would come in his house and eat up a lot of his food. He wouldn’t say anything. As long as you weren’t wasting food, it wasn’t a problem. He knew I wasn’t going to waste any food.
“He is so disciplined. Everything he does, even with his own sons, is disciplined. I just kind of fell in line and humbled myself.”
It was then, Willis says, that Dampeer truly began the journey that would lead him finally to Auburn.
“He got big,” Willis says. “I said ‘You are too big not to be productive.’ We started training on and off the field. He just became a hard worker. He didn’t want to fail, didn’t want to disappoint anyone. He became that guy that worked very hard.”
Dampeer will open a new chapter in his football career when he takes to the practice field with his teammates for the first time Tuesday.
“My goal is to help my team get to the national championship any way possible,” Dampeer says. “It’s not about just me. It’s a we, us, our thing. I’m only a center. I just want to be one to be one of the strong links in the chain to help pull us to the national championship.”
Phillip Marshall is a Senior Writer for AuburnTigers.com. Follow Marshall on Twitter: