GREENVILLE — When as a true freshman he jogged out on the first defensive series in East Carolina University’s season opener on Sept. 3, time stood still for J.D. Lampley.
Filling Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium that day was a record crowd of 51,711 fans, as the moment he long dreamt of was filled with a clash of purple and gold mixed with the red and white of North Carolina State University.
A 2022 graduate of Richmond Senior High School, Lampley has since set sail and proven his credibility, becoming a steady contributor along a gritty defensive line for the Pirates this season.
Enrolling a semester early last January, Lampley was a standout defensive staple for the Raiders and a highly talked about three-star signee. Wasting no time, he quickly climbed the depth chart during spring practice and caught the attention of ECU’s coaching staff.
“Things are going really well right now and I’m having a lot of fun,” Lampley said. “This level of football requires a lot more work than high school, but I’ve adjusted well. There haven’t been many off days since we started last spring.
“Being here through spring practice was a huge benefit and it helped me be better prepared this season. I was able to get a head start on the playbook and learn the defense. I’m definitely faster and put on more muscle.”
At 6-3, 290-pounds, Lampley has felt right at home lining up at nose tackle and going after opposing offenses. Known for his physicality and quickness to the ball, he’s played in eight of ECU’s nine games this season.
The only regular contributing freshman on defense, Lampley has logged 184 snaps this season. According to Stephen Igoe of Hoist the Colours, Lampley’s 66.8 pass rush grade is second on the team among lineman, trailing just junior Rick D’Abreu.
In the two months since Lampley first took the field against the Wolfpack, he’s learned to stay hungry but remain humble.
“It was unreal to run out in front of that many people,” Lampley recalled of his first appearance. “It was so cool to hear that many people cheering and feel that energy. It really was a dream come true moment.
“Getting as much playing time as I have, it means a lot to know the coaches trust me to put me in,” he added. “And it’s a good feeling to know the older players on defense also trust me to do my job. I’m just trying to approach each game the same way and control what I can control.”
This season, Lampley has recorded 11 total tackles, including six solo takedowns. His first splash play came in the second game, a 39-21 win over Old Dominion University, which saw Lampley recover a fumble.
A week later as part of a 49-10 victory over Campbell University, Lampley recorded a career-high five tackles (two solo).
Other highlights include four tackles and his first career sack against Tulane University and a half sack in a 34-13 win over the University of Central Florida on Oct. 22. Hoist the Colours reported that Lampley also has 10 quarterback pressures, according to Pro Football Focus.
Lampley said, however, his favorite moment of the season was celebrating with the team following a three-point win over Brigham Young University on a short week. Andrew Conrad kicked a game-winning 33-yard field goal as time expired last Friday.
“The defense as a whole is a group of 11 guys on the field at one time who are fast and violent,” Lampley said. “We’re a really cohesive unit and I can’t thank the veteran guys enough who have helped me a lot with understanding techniques and learning our defense.”
One aspect of the game he’s gained more respect for at the Division I level has been the overall speed. Lampley said “everything is faster,” from play calls coming in, to how fast players are and how quickly he has to come off the line.
But with more reps, and what he calls an “explosive” motor, Lampley continues to get more acclimated to his surroundings.
“The deeper we get into the season, the more comfortable I am with everything, especially rushing the passer,” Lampley explained. “From the start of the season, my speed and understanding of the game have gotten better.
“I try to play the same way every snap, explosive and physical. If I don’t get the initial play, I try to follow the ball and be there if it comes back.”
Lampley and ECU have a bye this week and will return to action on Nov. 11 at the University of Cincinnati.
The Pirates (6-3, 3-2 American Athletic Conference) have three games left in the regular season, including a final home game against the University of Houston on Nov. 19.
“We wanted to be bowl eligible and we accomplished that goal last week,” Lampley, a business management major, closed.
“Now we want to win out the rest of the season and try to win the conference championship. I’m going to stay focused and keep doing my part to help the team.”