Transferring to a different school can be a career-changing move for college athletes looking to make the jump to the next level.
According to the NCAA, 13 percent of Division I athletes transfer during their undergraduate careers. Additionally, only 0.6 percent of Division I athletes transfer as graduate students, meaning they use their final year of eligibility elsewhere after earning a bachelor’s degree. Thus, there is a very slim chance an athlete would do both.
But former Franklin High School football star Damon Hazelton did just that in college. Still, Hazelton said he never worried about how playing for three teams in college may affect his NFL stock. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound wide receiver began his college career at Ball State in 2016 before transferring to Virginia Tech, where he played from 2018-2019 after sitting out the 2017 season. He then played at Missouri in 2020.
“For me, [NFL teams] just want to know what my mind state was in each of those scenarios and what I was thinking, moving to each place,” Hazelton said on Glenn Clark Radio March 30. “And it’s not necessarily taken as a negative.”
Hazelton’s unusual route to this point began with his days at Franklin High School in Reisterstown, Md. Hazelton was a running back during his first three years of high school, helping the Indians win back-to-back state titles in 2013 and 2014 (Class 3A).
But Hazelton was able to turn his skills in the backfield into production at the wide receiver position as a senior in 2019. He racked up 31 receptions for 496 yards and 12 touchdowns, good enough to earn second-team All-Metro honors from The Baltimore Sun.
Hazelton said playing both positions in high school helped him once he focused on the wide receiver position in college.
“Starting with running back, [it] gave me another perspective of the game,” Hazelton said. “So I’ve just been building on that ever since I transitioned the receiver.”
Hazelton’s standout senior year effort earned him an offer to play at Ball State coming out of high school. As a freshman, Hazelton was second on the team in catches (51) and receiving yards (505) and first in touchdown catches (4). But his stay in Muncie, Ind., was short-lived, as Hazelton decided to transfer to Virginia Tech entering his sophomore year.
After redshirting his first year in Blacksburg, Va., Hazelton put his name on the NFL radar by catching 82 passes for 1,329 yards and 16 touchdowns for the Hokies from 2018-2019. He earned second-team All-ACC honors in 2018 and was an honorable mention pick in 2019.
Hazleton hoped his success at Virginia Tech would serve as motivation for his friends and other athletes back home in his native Baltimore.
“I want to be that guy that people can look to for inspiration,” Hazelton said. “Just to know that they can make it happen — not even just from Franklin, but from Baltimore as a whole or an impoverished community, whatever it is.”
Hazelton decided to take one more stop before calling it a quits in college, using his post-graduate eligibility at Missouri. Hazelton said the extra work he had to put in to acclimate himself to a new university yet again was not a problem.
“Hard work is something that’s just been the foundation of who I am, and it’s carried me a long way,” Hazelton said. “So that’s all I can continue to strive to do — just work hard and control what I can control.”
Hazelton was only able to post 30 receptions for 397 yards and a touchdown during the pandemic-altered 2020 season. Coming off what may be considered a down year, Hazelton had the option to take another year of eligibility due to the pandemic. But that was never an option in Hazelton’s mind.
“I didn’t sweat it too much,” Hazelton said. “I trust that I have enough film out there and I’ve proven that I’m a reliable target and one that can create separation no matter who I’m going up against.”
Hazelton is expected to be a late-round pick in the NFL Draft or go undrafted. But for Hazelton, this is just another obstacle to overcome in his career.
“I wasn’t a guy that had a lot of attention or whatever it was in high school or in college,” Hazelton said. “So it doesn’t make a difference to me. I’ve been always working and believing in myself. … Nothing’s changed with me. I control my world. I control my mindset going into everything.”
For more from Hazelton, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Zach Bland/Mizzou Athletics