When Chance Campbell was a ninth grader on Calvert Hall’s junior varsity, the Cardinals varsity defensive coordinator, Vernon Southwick, thought that one day he would eventually contribute to the program.
Campbell’s journey has taken him further, possibly a few days away from joining an elite fraternity: the National Football League.
The annual three-day league draft begins next Thursday and Campbell, an Ellicott City resident and Mississippi middle linebacker, is projected as a possibly Day 3 selection.
“I try to stay out of that,” the 6-foot-2, 232-pound Campbell said. “It’s a weird draft, one that will cover a wide range, so I don’t know what will happen or where I will go.”
Said Southwick: “He is off-the-charts smart. He is an excellent young man, and I hope he gets drafted. It’s hard to get rid of a guy who can walk out there and know all the positions. He has that type of intelligence.”
Campbell has the physical capabilities as well. The former University of Maryland player started 13 games last season for Mississippi and had 109 tackles, including 12.5 for losses, six sacks and three fumble recoveries.
At the scouting combine, Campbell impressed with a 39.5-inch vertical jump and a broad jump of 10 feet, 7 inches.
Campbell ran the 40-yard dash in 4.57 seconds, which means he can run sideline to sideline, a necessity these days in the pass-happy NFL.
He is also one of those quick-twitch, energetic guys who can shoot gaps to get penetration in the running game. But his critics say he sometimes plays too high and often locks onto a quarterback’s eye, which makes him an easy target in the passing game.
“There are always areas where you need to keep polishing,” Campbell said. “I have to keep working on getting off blocks, but I think my strength is being versatile, and I’ve always been productive. The league is fast, and I can run sideline to sideline, and I’m happy to show that in the passing game, which will help me.”
His major strength might be intelligence. Often watching tape, it’s easy for Campbell to dissect not only opposing offenses, but also his own defense.
Campbell made the transition from playing out of a five-man front at Maryland to a 3-2-6 alignment at Mississippi. He had help from Rebels defensive coordinator DJ Durkin, who used to be Campbell’s head coach at Maryland.
Southwick said Durkin’s relationship with Campbell probably resembled the one he had with him at Calvert Hall.
By Campbell’s junior year, Southwick had built the defense around him. They’d exchange ideas and concepts about game plans as easily as any of the Cardinals defensive assistants, and Campbell suggested adjustments during games.
“When I would go over stuff, he was always asking questions,” Southwick said. “He had a lot of freedom to make calls, and that doesn’t happen unless you have a special kid. It was a huge advantage.”
“I’m not saying we didn’t butt heads, but he watched so much film and he was right about 90% of the time,” Southwick said. “He was definitely a leader. In a way, it was almost embarrassing as a coach because he was usually right and he is on the field.”
Campbell has spent the past couple of months training, including several weeks in Florida. He doesn’t mind the workouts because they are the means to a lifelong dream. During the weekend, he’ll be home with his father, Rick, mom, Kati; maybe his brothers, Duncan and Trace, and sister, Bailey, will drop in.
“When I wake up in the morning, it feels great because this is a different kind of training, the focus is different,” Campbell said. “I’m excited about the possibility of playing in the NFL, and I know what I am doing now is a necessary step.”
Thursday, April 28, 8 p.m.
Friday, April 29, 7 p.m.
Saturday, April 30, noon
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