River Hill junior running back Michael Campanaro reflects on Dec. 9, 2006, with mixed emotions.
There's a feeling of disappointment, as the Hawks, playing in their first state championship game, lost to Prince George's County power Friendly, 37-18. But Campanaro, who rushed for more than 200 yards that day and caught a touchdown pass, also looks at the game as validation in his quest to play big-time college football.
"That championship game, playing against the best team in the state with all those great athletes, I think I proved to a lot of people and myself that I can play against the top competition. That highlight tape kind of put me on the map ... college recruiting-wise," said Campanaro, who will lead the No. 1 Hawks at 7 tonight against visiting Patuxent in the Class 2A South regional title game.
Catching the eyes of college coaches with impressive game film is only the start, however, Campanaro has learned. His sophomore reel was impressive, as he accounted for 1,645 yards and scored 20 touchdowns in a variety of ways. This season, he has gained 1,824 yards and scored 29 touchdowns.
Impressive numbers, indeed, but other numbers - such as his 40-yard dash time and bench press - have become his focal points.
Right after last year's title game, Campanaro's father, Attilio, called Joe Haden, a coach at Friendly and a personal trainer who runs camps that specialize in combine training for potential recruits.
"Michael came to me with a lot of ability and a lot of talent. What I was able to do for him was add to his explosiveness and improve his numbers for the combines," Haden said. "Michael was a fast quick - good quickness and good speed. But with the proper technique, he got down to where he went to camps running the 40 in the high 4.3s. A 4.5 time is great, but a 4.3 time is a next-level time."
Campanaro, a coach's son who also plays point guard on the basketball team, came to River Hill as an all-around athlete. He was 5 feet 9 and weighed 140 pounds, ran the 40 in 4.62 seconds and could bench-press 165 pounds.
Now 5-10 and 165 pounds, he improved his 40 time to 4.35 seconds over the summer and his bench press to 280 pounds. With more bulk and improved speed, Campanaro has run more effectively inside and improved his tackling in the secondary.
"You have to put in a lot of hard work. You have to give up sleeping in during the summer," he said. "But in the end, it makes you love it that much more. That's what it comes down to for me - I love doing it every day."
Between his sophomore year and now, Campanaro went to a number of combines and eight one-day college camps that tested his football skills. He also found time to help River Hill capture its first state basketball title last winter.
These days, his daily routine is school, practice, dinner and checking out the handful of letters he has received from colleges all over the country.
Campanaro, who has a 3.0 grade point average, has received scholarship offers from Wake Forest, North Carolina, Northwestern and Akron. Other schools showing interest include Maryland, Boston College, Connecticut, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh.
"The recruiting trend right now is that colleges are looking for more athletic players - smaller and faster - who can play all over the field," said Sheldon Shealer, editor of MDVarsity.com, a recruiting Web site. "That actually has been a benefit to Maryland recruiting in general because we're not blessed with kids with a lot of big girth that you tend to find coming out of states such as Pennsylvania. We tend to have more athletic kids - more of the running backs, wide receivers, defensive backs - at the skilled positions. And Michael is obviously right in that mix in that he's a great athlete."
This season, he has been showcased at several positions on offense - lining up at running back, wide receiver and even quarterback - and also has excelled in the secondary and return game. It has displayed his versatility to college coaches and helped the Hawks win games.
"Years ago, colleges would recruit players as a cornerback or recruit you as a running back, specifically. But now, they recruit kids just as athletes who they can find a position for," River Hill coach Brian Van Deusen said. "I think the good thing for Michael is we're trying to do a lot of different things with him. It helps us because defenses can't key on where he's at, and it's also good for him because in college, he may end up playing wide receiver."
Earlier in the fall, Campanaro took a trip in which he visited Wake Forest, North Carolina and North Carolina State. He also has been to a couple of Maryland games in College Park, enjoying the atmosphere and feeling good about the chance to follow his dream of playing college football at the highest level. He keeps in touch with interested coaches via e-mail throughout the week and also posts his game highlights on YouTube.
As the Hawks are looking to take that final step and win a state championship, Campanaro is enjoying the challenge.
"Being a junior now, I'm able to get the letters and the e-mails, and it's been a great feeling," Campanaro said. "Football is really big for me, and I really wanted to pursue it, and here I am getting recognized. It's been a fun experience."