Du’Vonta Lampkin sat in the visiting team’s locker room at the Greensboro Coliseum in North Carolina following a Week 2 loss uncertain about his football future.
The hefty defensive tackle left the game early after feeling a “little tweak” in his surgically repaired left knee and didn’t return as the Massachusetts Pirates lost to the defending National Arena League champion Carolina Cobras.
“I was a little shaken up,” Lampkin said earlier this week following a team meeting, downplaying what he initially thought might be a career-threatening injury.
Fortunately, the MRI results revealed rest and rehab rather than another round of surgery would suffice, as Lampkin had avoided major damage to the same knee for the second time in nine months. He tore the medial collateral ligament while in training camp with the Tennessee Titans last summer.
“I was pretty happy with the results that came back and them telling me I had to attack rehab really hard,” Lampkin said.
Lampkin missed five games but returned last week to help the Pirates extend their winning streak to three games, improve to 4-4 and climb to third place in the six-team NAL with a win in Florida over the Orlando Predators.
The Pirates will look to continue their winning ways against the Columbus Lions (3-5) at 7 p.m. Saturday at the DCU Center.
“Man, it felt good to be back,” Lampkin said. “No one wants to sit out, no one wants to get hurt, no one wants to hear from their parents asking when you’re going to get back on the field. No one wants to sit there at practice while everyone is practicing. In an athlete’s mind, you want to be on the field at all times.”
The 6-foot-4, 330-pound Lampkin showcased his extraordinary ability and agility for such a massive player early in his return.
Orlando had the ball at the Pirates’ 24-yard line and was threatening to extend its lead with two minutes gone in the second quarter when Lampkin overpowered the center and batted a pass by quarterback Bryan Hicks with his right hand. He finished the play with a one-handed interception that was returned 5 yards.
It was his first interception as a pro and his first since he starred for Cypress Falls High in Houston.
“It was a pretty good feeling, but for some reason, I can’t get very far when I get an interception,” Lampkin said with a laugh, a nod to his limited elusiveness. “Hopefully, the next time I get one I can bring it to the house.”
The pass-happy indoor game doesn’t play to the wide-bodied Lampkin’s strength as a player who can stuff the run and take on double teams, allowing others to make plays.
Still, he has had a noticeable impact with an assisted tackle, a quarterback hit, and the aforementioned interception while helping the defense allowed a league-low 1.2 yards per rush.
“He’s an amazing athlete; a big body and a definite NFL talent,” Pirates coach Anthony Payton said. “Not only does he look good on paper, but he also looks good in the game. He does things so athletic, so fast — great hands, great eyes — and young, too. So, I love coaching him, love having him around.”
Lampkin, still only 22, was a three-star recruit coming out of high school who ultimately signed with the University of Oklahoma. He spent three seasons with the Sooners before declaring for the NFL Draft as a redshirt sophomore in 2018.
After going undrafted, Lampkin participated in the Baltimore Ravens’ rookie minicamp and then signed with the Titans. He was waived with an injury settlement at the end of training camp in August.
Pirates’ co-owner Jawad Yatim reached out to the injured Lampkin in October and the two came to terms a month later.
“He helped me out with post-surgery stuff so I could get back to where I needed to be,” Lampkin said. “I can’t do anything but thank Jawad because the season didn’t start until March and he brought me up here in November.”
As for his football future, Lampkin has his sights set on returning to the NFL. In the meantime, he’s all about one thing.
“Hopefully I get an opportunity,” Lampkin said, “but right now I’m focused on winning a championship with the Mass. Pirates.”
—Contact Rich Garven at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @RichGarvenTG