Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis admitted that he didn't too much about Gannon Hampton when the senior offensive lineman transferred from Dade County prior to the start of pre-season workouts for the 2012 season.

However, it didn't take Hampton long to make a great first impression on his new coach with his work ethic. 

"If I was going to try and describe a prototypical football player, I'd be describing Gannon," Mariakis explained. "He just loves the game, hates to lose, and gives tremendous effort every day."

The 6-foot-1, 285-pounder quickly established himself as a force on the offensive line for the Panthers, and he hopes to do the same thing next fall at Division II powerhouse Carson-Newman College after signing  his letter of intent on Wednesday.

"It was really a no-brainer," Hampton said of his decision. "Carson-Newman is a great program. They've always won. They have a great coaching staff and awesome facilities. It was an easy decision for me."

Hampton graded out at 94 percent as a center for a Ridgeland rushing attack that that rolled up over 5,400 yards on 73 touchdowns on their way to the state championship game.

The All-State first team selection also was a standout on defense, recording 88 tackles, four sacks, four forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. A total of 23 tackles went for a loss as the Panthers won the Region 7-AAAA championship and a school-record 13 games last fall.

"You have to run him off the practice field and out of the weight room," Mariakis said. "There were times in the summer when he was putting in six to seven hours a day just on football, and we finally had to send him home to keep him from working himself too much."

"Not many players at (the Division II level) get a full scholarship package, which just tells you how much Carson-Newman is excited about him," Mariakis added. "They expect him to start at center next year."

"I just have to keep hitting the weights, keep my conditioning up, and learn how to wake up earlier," Hampton said with a laugh. "I just have to keep working to get better."

He added that the last few months have been "perfect".

"It's been a crazy how everything has come together," he said. "I've really been blessed and it's been a great year."