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Clarksville's Michael Campanaro eagerly awaits NFL draft

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Michael Campanaro is no stranger to the waiting game.

Back in high school, as a two-time Howard County Football Player of the Year at River Hill, Campanaro didn't see elite-level Division I college attention until well after his senior season was over. By then, he had already committed to Wake Forest — one of the few teams that had recruited him from the very beginning.

Later, before going on to set the all-time mark for career receptions at Wake Forest, Campanaro was forced to watch from the sidelines for a season — serving as a redshirt freshman in 2009.

So with this year's National Football League draft approaching, and the 5-foot-9 wide receiver being tagged with a third-round grade according to most talent evaluators, the prospect of potentially having to wait until the second or third day to hear his name called isn't fazing Campanaro.

"Everyone keeps asking me if I'm getting nervous for the draft, but honestly, I'm just kind of anxious to see where I end up. There's like 15 to 20 teams that have expressed interest," Campanaro said. "And, you know, I understand that teams are going to pass on me … it was like that in high school not getting all the scholarship offers and teams passing on me. But I've learned to take that and play with a chip on my shoulder to prove people wrong.

"Third round, fourth, fifth … it doesn't matter. It's going to be a dream come true no matter when or where I go."

Regardless of draft position, Campanaro stands to make history. No River Hill High School graduate has ever been selected to the NFL, and longtime coach Brian Van Deusen says having Campanaro become the first would be a big moment for the program.

"Michael has outstanding athletic ability and a great work ethic," Van Deusen said. "This shows our current players what can happen when you work hard year round and study the game."

Over the past five years, Howard County has seen just two football players — Aaron Maybin (Mt. Hebron) in 2009 and Zach Brown (Wilde Lake) in 2012 — selected in the draft. Brown, a former second-round pick, is a linebacker with the Tennessee Titans, while Maybin, a former first-round selection by the Buffalo Bills, is a linebacker for the Toronto Argonauts in the Canadian Football League.

The idea that Campanaro could soon join that list and become the first Hawks' graduate to make the NFL seems somewhat fitting, though, because he was among the centerpieces on the teams that brought River Hill to prominence in the mid-2000s.

As a junior in 2007, Campanaro finished with 2,310 all-purpose yards and 30 touchdowns while helping River Hill to 14-0 record and the first state championship in program history. The next year, the team repeated as champions with Campanaro again going for more than 2,000 all-purpose yards and upping his career touchdown total to a program-record 90.

Van Deusen, who has since guided River Hill to two more state championships, says nothing Campanaro achieved came as a surprise.

"We knew Michael was a rare talent when we saw him come in as a freshman," he said. "His knowledge of the game and football instincts were ahead of players his age. He continued to improve throughout his career … we figured he would go on to have an outstanding college career and have a chance to play in the NFL."

Campanaro's dreams of playing in the NFL started to take on reality when he was redshirting at Wake Forest. Working out in practice every day against older guys, like teammate Brandon Ghee who has spent the last four years playing cornerback for the Cincinnati Bengals, was eye-opening.

"I started going up against guys that you could tell were going to make it to the league, and, in talking to them, they said they saw the potential in me if I was willing to put in the work," Campanaro said. "I think that's when it became more than a dream and I started to believe it was actually a real possibility."

Despite a broken hand that cost him two games as a junior and a broken collarbone that cost him the final three games of his senior season, Campanaro graduated with the most career catches (229) and second-most receiving yards (2,506) in Wake Forest history. During his senior season, he produced four games with at least 10 catches and finished among the top 55 players in the nation in total receptions with 67.

"When you think about the fact that he only played eight games and he still put up the numbers he did, it says a lot," said Taylor Stubblefield, who worked with Campanaro as Wake Forest's wide receivers coach for his senior season. "Michael has always been able to catch the ball extremely well and he has tremendous athleticism, but our goal for him was to become the best route runner in the country.

"He learned to anticipate what the defenses were trying to do and use that to his advantage. Being polished, working on the details, that's what we worked the most on."

Still, Campanaro found himself with questions that needed to be answered by pro scouts. His health in returning from the collarbone injury, his speed, explosiveness and strength were all things teams were looking to evaluate.

So, with preparation in mind, Campanaro decided to move to Miami after he graduated from Wake Forest in December to begin training with Pete Bommarito, who has worked with over 60 current NFL wide receivers.

Campanaro's six-day-a-week training focused on speed drills and other things that the scouts would be measuring at the NFL combine in late February.

He then turned heads with a 40-yard dash time of 4.46 seconds, a vertical leap of 39 inches, a 10-2 broad jump, a shuttle time of 4.01 seconds and 20 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press.

"The combine is always important, but for me it was especially big and I thought it went extremely well," Campanaro said. "Between the numbers I put up there and playing in the Senior Bowl, I think I was able to answer a lot of questions people had about me.

"I've received so many good vibes and so much good feedback from so many different teams the last couple months."

The Ravens are one of those teams. Campanaro had a formal interview with Ravens officials at the Senior Bowl in January, and an informal meeting at the NFL combine with new receivers coach Bobby Engram. In mid-April, he made the trip back home for a couple days to visit family and participate in the Ravens' local prospects workout day.

Campanaro said showcasing his talent for the hometown team was special. "It was definitely something I wanted to do, get a chance to come up and work out with the team after going to so many games growing up," he said. "I've been a fan since I was a kid, so it was pretty fun to be there working out for the coaching staff."

Campanaro has the build of a slot receiver in the NFL, particularly guys such as 5-9 Wes Welker and 5-11 Danny Amendola, who have each had at least one season with 85 or more catches.

"The NFL game has changed a lot over the last five years to more of a spread offense passing style, which makes the slot receiver position very valuable," Van Deusen said. "Michael has the talents that many of the NFL slot receivers have, and he has better speed than most of them."

As for comparisons to a receiver such as Welker, Campanaro says it's flattering, but he a wants a chance to pave his own road.

"Being compared to those guys is a huge honor just because without a guy like Wes Welker, I wouldn't really be where I'm at today," he said. "He's kind of set a mold in the NFL for the position that we play. But I also try to express to teams that I'm more athletic than your typical guy playing in the slot and I think I have the potential to bring more of a home run threat than a lot of them.

"I think at the combine, especially, I got a great stage to show all the teams all the things I can do."

While he won't be at home for the draft, Campanaro says he does plan to host a party with friends and family in Miami, where he is continuing his workouts.

The first round is slated for Thursday, the second and third rounds scheduled for Friday and then rounds four-through-seven wrapping things up on Saturday. Campanaro's phone could ring any time between late Friday into Saturday.

"It's a waiting game now," Campanaro said. "But I guess when you think about it, I've been working and waiting for this moment since I first started playing. So really, what's a little bit longer at this point?"

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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