BROOKSVILLE — Hernando senior Darren Hambrick strolled into the office with a new haircut and a freshly trimmed beard. He had traded in his jeans and T-shirt look for a pair of black slacks and a sharp purple shirt and tie with a silver pen poking out.
“Your appearance makes everything,” Hambrick said. “I just wanted to make a new appearance for myself.”
Hambrick’s new look represents the fresh start that began Friday morning when he signed to play football at Nebraska-Kearney.
The Leopards star moves onto college after a standout but turbulent high school career. The two-star recruit battled off-the-field issues but became one of the North Suncoast’s most feared pass rushers, racking up 10.5 sacks during his final two seasons.
Hambrick was part of a standout Hernando defense that took the Leopards to three consecutive playoff appearances for the first time in program history.
Hambrick initially said he was committed to Missouri, but his options narrowed to Kent State, Western Kentucky and the Lopers, an NCAA Division II program.
“It felt like a right fit for me,” Hambrick said.
The 6-foot-2, 235-pound athlete will play middle linebacker for UNK and will see some familiar faces on campus. His godbrother, Pasco defensive back Damien Wilson, signed with the Lopers on Wednesday. And UNK offensive coordinator Andy Siegal was an assistant at Pasco when Hambrick’s father, former Gators and NFL alumnus Darren Hambrick, led the Pirates to the only state championship in North Suncoast history.
“He looks at me as a son,” Hambrick said of Siegal. “Hopefully he’ll make me into a great player.”
Hambrick is the third Leopard to sign this winter, joining ATH Tyrail Hawkins (Georgia Southern) and DE/LB Robert Hill Bronson (Tennessee Tech).
Hambrick said he’s not concerned about the distance from home or the impending cold of Nebraska winters, if they give him a chance to mature as a player and person.
“If I’ve got to go there to better myself and humble myself, I’m gonna do that,” Hambrick said. “It’s gonna make me into the better man I’m going to be.”
Matt Baker can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.