He has scored more goals in a season than any other men's lacrosse player in Towson University history, yet Kyle Campbell detects rust in his game.
Some days, he still feels out of shape after running in practice. He often is not satisfied with his left-handed shot. Campbell figures by next spring, his game will be complete again.
For now, the sophomore attackman from Ellicott City will have to settle for being a devastating work in progress.
Towson can point to many reasons why it has emerged from years of mediocrity to stun the lacrosse world by making the final four for only the second time in its 22-year Division I history.
Coach Tony Seaman has stocked the roster with superb athletes over the past two years. Senior faceoff man Justin Berry has fought knee and hamstring injuries while becoming possibly tops at his position. Senior goalie John Horrigan is playing the best ball of his life at the perfect time.
But when you talk of Towson, which must beat Princeton on Saturday for a shot at its first Division I title on Monday, you start with a fast-break offense that has pushed the Tigers to their best record since they won the Division II crown in 1974.
And the talk on offense starts with Campbell, who has overcome academic problems and an 18-month layoff from the game to return as one of its premier scorers.
Campbell put another exclamation point on his comeback in Sunday's NCAA tournament quarterfinals. With 27 seconds left against Maryland, he scored the game-winning goal to lift Towson to a 12-11 victory, the Tigers' first over the Terps in seven years. No one in school history had scored 50 goals in a season before Campbell ended Maryland's season.
"He has the sense of where to be and when to be there," Seaman said of Campbell. "If he doesn't score, it's because the goalie makes a good save. Kyle rarely misses the cage. He makes us a really good transition team, because he's such a good finisher. We had two-thirds of a great attack before he got here. We thought he could be a deciding factor for us."
The Tigers average 13.4 goals a game, with five different players producing at least 20 points. They might be the most dangerous transition team left in the NCAA tournament, largely because Campbell rarely misses his target. He easily leads the team in goals by being deadly from short range. Campbell is making 48 percent of his shots.
Skills not all back
"You've got to look at how many goals are assisted. Most of mine are. And most of them have been with the right hand," said Campbell, who sings his praises as quietly as he slips defenders around the crease.
"I'm not in the kind of shape to be an effective dodger. I'm a fan of moving the ball. I'm happy to be the guy setting the pick for the guy who scores, as long as we win. I know my limits. My skills weren't gone when I came back, and they're not back completely. They're getting there."
Campbell took a rough path en route to Towson. First, he had to endure the pain of academic failure at Loyola College after a stellar high school run at Mount Hebron, where he recorded 150 goals and 110 assists and became one of the most prized recruits in the country.
He had to leave Loyola after his freshman season in 1999 and walk away from his favorite game, while starting over in the classroom at Howard Community College. While earning his associate degree there, Campbell was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, which explained the acute problems he had managing his time and focusing on assignments.
"It was really tough leaving Loyola. I felt like I had let my teammates down. It hurt to look at them," said Campbell, who would play no organized lacrosse for 18 months. He even passed up a chance to play in the World Games with the U.S. under-19 team in Australia two summers ago, while trying to maintain his eligibility at Loyola.
While working through his final semester at Howard CC last fall, Campbell, planning his lacrosse comeback, took a liking to Towson. Seaman had recruited him during his final year of coaching at Johns Hopkins, and Campbell had a number of friends at Towson, including Hebron alums like defenseman Mike Machiran. Watching the young, athletic Tigers during their 2000 fall season convinced Campbell of his next move.
"They were fun to watch. They had guys making big plays, and there was a different attitude out there," said Campbell, well aware that Towson had experienced four consecutive losing seasons, including a 3-10 dud last year. "I remember thinking this team could be so good. They might be missing one ingredient."
Campbell, 6 feet 2, 205 pounds, had plenty of catching up to do. He recalls fading badly during the second half of preseason practices, when running for an extended period was a major chore.
"His first couple of weeks were brutal. He was the last guy running laps, and the whole team was running extra because of him, but there was immediate acceptance," Seaman said. "You'd never know he's got 50 goals by the way he acts. He does his job just as quietly on the field."
Warming up in hurry
It didn't take long for Campbell to rediscover his knack for scoring. After getting shut out in a season-opening loss to Virginia, he has scored in every game since.
But it was a seven-goal outburst in a 19-14 victory at Loyola on March 31 that launched Campbell and Towson. He would complete a 14-for-20 shooting tear a week later with another seven-goal show in a 16-12 win at Hofstra. Since then, Campbell has been among the national leaders in scoring, making it as high as second at one point.
Campbell stands a good chance of completing his comeback year with first-team All-America honors.
"When it was time to go back [to lacrosse], he picked up his stick and did it," said Janice Campbell, Kyle's mother. "Towson is a perfect fit for him. He's doing well in school and on the field. He's turned his life around."
Towson at a glance
Coach: Tony Seaman, third season, 22-21.
How it got to Rutgers: Sixth-seeded Towson beat Duke, 12-10, in the first round, then scored two goals during the final 44 seconds in Sunday's 12-11 victory over third-seeded Maryland in the quarterfinals.
NCAA history: Towson is in the tournament for the first time in five years. The Tigers have been this far only one other time in their Division I history, losing in the finals to North Carolina in 1991. Towson won the Division II championship in 1974.
Goals leader: Kyle Campbell, sophomore, 50.
Assists leader: Brad Reppert, junior, 35.
Faceoff specialist: Justin Berry, senior, won 63.8 percent.
Goalie: John Horrigan, senior, 7.82 goals allowed, saved 58.3 percent.