High School Sports

La’Jon Enis-Carter and Marques Hampton Jr.: From head-butting to Steilacoom’s dynamic receiver duo

Steilacoom's receiving duo of Marques Hampton and Lajon Enis-Carter have been burning opposing secondaries this season. Photo taken in Steilacoom on Tuesday, Nov. 1 2016.
Steilacoom's receiving duo of Marques Hampton and Lajon Enis-Carter have been burning opposing secondaries this season. Photo taken in Steilacoom on Tuesday, Nov. 1 2016. dperine@thenewstribune.com

It wasn’t a one-handed catch by La’Jon Enis-Carter, like the one he made against Stadium.

And it wasn’t Marques Hampton Jr. burning one-on-one coverage for a 70-yard touchdown catch against River Ridge.

What it actually took to get Steilacom into the 2A district playoffs — with a seven-game win streak and a chance at their third state appearance in the past six years — was those two standout receivers persuading the rest of the team to buy in to more than highlights and touchdowns.

Steilacoom lost to Stadium and River Ridge despite the big plays by Enis-Carter and Hampton.

“It wasn’t a play they made — it was their leadership,” Steilacoom coach Rich Lane said.

“It has gone from an offensive-minded team to being an entire team now. Listen, they still want to score, but they’ve realized that they can score easier when they’ve shut a team down and got their defense off the field, or when they block a punt or get us in great field position.”

Hampton, a 6-foot, 190-pound Eastern Washington commit, has 61 catches for 804 yards and 12 touchdowns this year.

Enis-Carter, at 6-2, 190 pounds, has 44 catches for 746 yards.

Are they the best wide-receiver duo in the 2A South Puget Sound League?

“Yes,” they said in near unison. Their coach agrees.

“Easily,” Lane said.

Enis-Carter and Hampton admittedly prefer offense, yet neither had qualms about playing on defense and special teams. Instead of chafing at the extra duties, they helped make the play of Steilacoom’s season — so far — against Tumwater.

Enis-Carter and Hampton were on each side of linebacker Anthony Leiato, charging in on Tumwater’s punter. Leiato got his hand on the ball and Hampton caught it on its way down before running for a touchdown in Steilacoom’s 33-23 road victory — snapping Tumwater’s 40-game, regular-season win streak. Steilacoom has three blocked punts and three blocked kicks this year.

“I think everybody was really thinking we could make a run before that Tumwater game,” Steilacoom quarterback JJ Lemming said. “But that really bolstered it. We really started to believe in ourselves.

“In the beginning of the season, it was really Coach kind of saying the same things over and over, but we didn’t listen to him as much as we do now. That’s a terrible thing to say, but it’s really true.”

On offense, though, Lane had a simple message. Get the ball to the team’s two playmakers.

“After our second game, we really simplified the offense,” Lemming said. “(Lane) just said, ‘Throw it up there. Let our athletes go get it. We got Marques, we got La’Jon — two of the best athletes in the state.”

Lane likens it to the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” when the NFL team had Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

Hampton set Steilacoom’s school record for receiving yards last year when he finished with 54 catches for 1,102 yards (out of the team’s 1,958 total passing yards) and nine touchdowns. Enis-Carter didn’t start playing until halfway through the season because of academic ineligibility.

Enis-Carter played quarterback in his first two years at Luther Burbank in Sacramento, California. He lived with his mother, but moved back to Lakewood in the spring of 2015 and is living with his cousin.

It was a much-needed change of scenery. The death of his grandmother led him to start hanging around people he shouldn’t have, doing things he shouldn’t have and not going to school like he should have, he said.

“My mom sat me down and she was like, ‘Son, I think you need to start over and get your life together,’ ” Enis-Carter said. “I came up here and got on track.

“I chose to take a different route in my life, and I needed that,” he said. “I always wanted to go to college, and I don’t think I was going to be capable of that down there. I’ve lived a lot, I’ve been through a lot. I’m just happy I’m here and in a stable life. Man, it feels great.”

He said he stays in touch with his mom.

“When she tells me she’s proud of me, that keeps me wanting to go,” Enis-Carter said. “And my cousin, she pushes me. If I drop a crumb, ‘Clean that up!’ But it’s just tough love and I know that.”

Hampton was a running back growing up. He said he hadn’t played a snap at receiver until his sophomore year, when Steilacoom switched from its wing-T offense to its current spread.

Hampton’s first impression of Enis-Carter?

“I’m not even going to lie to you, he was a little cocky,” Hampton said.

“I was, I was,” Enis-Carter laughed.

And Enis-Carter’s first impression of Hampton?

“I just kept hearing, ‘Marques is better than you,’ ” Enis-Carter said. “I was just like ‘OK, whatever. Let me meet this dude.’ People had hyped him up.”

They used competition as a way of getting to know each other. And their competitive spirits helped set the identity of this year’s Steilacoom football team.

Now they frequently hang out, order double cheeseburgers, large fries and Oreo McFlurries at McDonald’s, or get their hair cut at Sunny’s Salon. They both start on the school’s basketball team and ran together on the 4x100 relay team in track and field.

“They got after each other a few times, and they started to respect each other,” Lane said. “It was like two rams butting heads — they figured it out.

“They have a lot of chemistry when it comes to football because both have a pretty high football IQ. But where it really turned up was how they would block. They really bought in this year to blocking for each other, and by doing that they help each other out. It’s really symbiotic. When one guy is catching it, the other is blocking.”

Now Steilacoom enters its playoff rematch against Olympic at 7 p.m. Friday convinced that it’s a different team than it was last year — when Olympic won, 70-6.

“We were more individual than a team last year,” Hampton said. “But the big difference is we have come together as a team and we’re working hard to achieve one goal.”

TJ Cotterill: 253-597-8677, @tjcotterill