A change of scenery was in the best interest for former Santa Fe Springs (Calif.) cornerback Romeo Pellum.
After signing with Washington State in 2007, Pellum went to Pullman, and played two years for the Cougs, starting at corner in 2008.
But off-the-field issues derailed his time on the Palouse and faced with the decision to choose a new school to play, Pellum found Hampton University in Virginia, a school known more for their basketball teams upset in 2001 of Iowa State and the indelible image of head coach Steve Merfield wildly kicking his feet in the air.
Pellum didn’t plan to hit the hardwood, he wanted back on the field, where Hampton has had a tiny modicum of success.
And for the Southern California native, the move to Virginia wasn’t easy.
“Hampton was rough at first,” said Pellum. “I thought it would be good but it was real humid. I was ready to go back home, try it back over again. We were in new coverages then I had a knee injury and a concussion and I wasn’t focused anymore.”
A once promising career looked like it would be over, but then Pellum realized his clock was ticking on football, and once the 2009 season ended, he rededicated himself to the game he loved.
“After the season, when we started winter conditioning, I just refocused myself,” said Pellum. “I made sure my grades are better and cut my hair. To me, the hair deal was about image. I wanted to walk around, be presentable. I wanted people to think ‘Romeo is a good guy, he works hard.’”
Pellum’s goal was to play in the NFL when he started at Washington State in 2007, and with that dream slipping away, he knew he needed to put the work in.
“To accomplish the goal, I knew I’d have to harder than I would have at Washington State, so I got refocused,” said Pellum.
Pellum was greeted at Hampton by another SoCal native, who started out at a Pac-10 school before moving cross-country and playing at Hampton, Ray Lewis, now an assistant coach with the Pirates, and a mentor to the new football players.
“Ray, he’s the one who picked me up from the airport, been by my side as a coach and a mentor, and like a big brother to me,” said Pellum. “He teaches me new stuff every day, helps me with my play and helps me with my school. It’s really hard being away from California. But he graduated from Hampton after having to move all the way out here and he’s been a big help.”
Pellum’s off-the-field problems at Washington State forced him out of Pullman, but he wanted to make a complete change at Hampton, and got involved in a mentoring program in the area.
“We have a mentor program with Ray called J.E.S.U.S. and worked at a high school, South Morrison HS in Newport News, where there are a lot of the single parent homes, a lot of kids that get in trouble a lot, from a similar environment that I grew up in. They asked me to speak and took me there and had me speak to the kids. There were some kids in the back, I noticed that they were the trouble kids. So I went and spoke with them in the classroom. I found out they were troubled kids, some had been in jail and been suspended. So I wanted to get to them at the adolescent stage. They don’t have someone to tell them to stay clear of the bad influences. “And since it was coming from a guy that’s in college and plays football, they were listening.”
After connecting with the students, Pellum was drawn back to South Morrison.
“The first Friday in February, I ordered them pizza, and bought them juice, and the behavior was good. The teachers said they were never like that, and started asking ‘when is he coming back’. It started just talking to them. Now I’m going there at least once a month, and they’re staying on track, not getting in trouble.”
Pellum now sees what he wants to do in his future.
“I want to be a lawyer, but on the side, I want to be a mentor with kids like that,” said Pellum. “I want to be a mentor with kids across the nation.”
Pellum said he has no ill-will towards his former teammates and coaches at Washington State, and wishes them the best.
“I have nothing but good things to say about Coach Wulff and the rest of the team there and I’m pulling for them to have a good season,” said Pellum. “I’m not going to say it’s good what happened at Washington State, but I feel like coming to Hampton, what happened at Washington State happened for a reason, and maybe it’s for the best that I’m here now.”
Pellum, who’s majoring in psychology, said his last semester grades saw him pull in all A’s and B’s and he’s on track to graduate next spring.
Now, he’s focusing on his senior year, where he’s poised to be the starting corner and punt returner for the Pirates.
“This year, we had some coaching changes and Coach (Donovan) Rose, it was his first year and I felt like he’s learned a lot,” said Pellum. “He went to the Coaching Convention and went to some places to learn. He’s on track to be a great head coach and has us on track to be able to succeed. We open up with Central Michigan and that will be the first time Hampton has ever played a D-I school.”
Pellum ran a 4.39 in the workouts the Pirates did last week as they prepped for spring ball and is ready to go.
“This is a big year for me and I just want to have a good season and give myself a chance to play at the next level,” said Pellum.