Large crowd greets Ravens' Campanaro in his return to River Hill for toy drive

Michael Campanaro makes return to River Hill High School to raise money and collect toy donations

For Clarksville-native Michael Campanaro, there were obvious perks to being drafted by the hometown Baltimore Ravens in May’s National Football League Draft.

Getting to play half his games in front of his family and friends and start a career in the area where he grew up is something Campanaro calls “a dream come true.”

But it’s something else, something Campanaro got to do on Friday in coordination with the Marine Corps Toys for Tots campaign, that is an extra special bonus to being so close to the community he grew up in — he has a chance to give back to those that gave to him.

Returning to his alma mater River Hill High School Friday evening, the former Howard County football Player of the Year spent more than an hour signing autographs and posing for pictures with fans, friends and anyone else that brought a toy or monetary donation for Toys for Tots.

“To get back in the community, around people that may have watched me play in high school or have supported me to help me get to where I am today, it’s just really exciting,” Campanaro said. “I’ve been talking with my parents about finding ways to give back and this just seemed like a great opportunity to come back to River Hill and be a part of this. With the holidays coming up, this being a great cause and us having a bye week, everything just fell into place.”

The Toys for Tots campaign collects donations through the months of October and November and then delivers toys to those in need. An estimated 250,00 to 400,000 toys are collected each year in central Maryland alone.

The collection at River Hill Friday, which also featured a pair of Ravens Cheerleaders in attendance, served as a precursor to the Hawks’ opening-round playoff game at Reservoir that kicked off at 7 p.m.

For many people that came out early, it was a great chance to reconnect with one of the guys that helped make the River Hill football program what it is today before cheering on the current team.

“My brother is really into the Ravens and actually he went to school with (Campanaro) and they had a couple classes together, so I know a little about him and I really wanted to come out and meet him since he’s from here,” said current River Hill sophomore Sarah Ton, who planned to attend the football game. “I find it pretty cool how he’s shown how you can start here at the high school and make it all the way up to the (NFL).”

Paul Kojzar and his wife Xina were among those in line that had watched Campanaro play back when he was in high school. Their children, Andrew and Jocelyn, attended River Hill during Campanaro’s playing days.

“I remember watching him play and he always stood out because he was getting the ball quite a bit,” Paul Kojzar said. “We were there watching when they won (the state championships in 2007 and 2008). And we are Ravens fans so we wanted to come out (tonight).”

According to River Hill athletic director Rick Lloyd, this is the first Toys for Tots drive at the school. Campanaro pitched the idea and it was received with open arms.

“It says a lot about the character that he has and, really, it’s the kind of kid he was when he was here at River Hill. He’s just a quality person and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s getting involved with something like this,” Lloyd said. “It’s just really neat that he can do it in his hometown representing us, representing the community … it’s really a win for everybody.”

Campanaro says he’s done several signings since joining the Ravens, but this one at River Hill is his first official appearance in Howard County. If he has his way, this will certainly not be the last.

“I look at Torrey Smith and everything he does in terms of community work and he’s someone that I really look up to,” said Campanaro about his Baltimore Ravens teammate. “I want to follow in his footsteps and do a lot of the same things he is.”

Campanaro went on to explain his unique position to capitalize on some of his local fame.

“Being a late-round draft-pick, going in the seventh round, if you get taken by anyone except your hometown team, you are pretty much an unknown,” he said. “But I’m fortunate to have a great built-in fan base and I feel like I have a responsibility to get out here and do whatever I can to give back.”

While those in attendance were thrilled to get a meet-and-greet with Campanaro, many said they can’t wait to see the wide receiver get back on the field and start contributing again after being sidelined by a hamstring injury the last couple weeks.

Campanaro, who sustained the injury early in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals on Oct. 26, had caught six balls for 85 yards and a touchdown on the season prior to going down.

He said he’s hopeful for a return, after the team’s bye, on the road against the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football Nov. 24.

“It’s feeling good. I’m trying to take it day by day, but its definitely been getting a lot better,” Campanaro said in regards to the hamstring. “I can’t wait to get back out there. I felt like with that Cincinnati game I was getting into that bigger role with the offense, getting to return a couple kicks, really starting to contribute. Hopefully, whenever I get back on the field, I can pick up right where I left off.”

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