Let me reintroduce Jason Campbell. Auburn legend. NFL quarterback. College football dinosaur.
There may never be another player like Campbell. It’s not that there won’t be players as successful or talented as Campbell. Great players do remarkable things every year.
But Campbell’s narrative of potential followed by patience and finally peak performance is not one that is likely to be duplicated anytime soon. In this age of desiring instant gratification and the belief the grass is always greener, it’s important to understand the path Campbell took to athletic and financial success.
Campbell was at the Grand Hotel in Point Clear last month for the Reese’s Senior Bowl Hall of Fame banquet and golf tournament. He shared his journey from Taylorsville, Miss., to Auburn and into the NFL.
“I had a great career because I realized that I couldn’t worry about what other people thought and said,” Campbell said. “I knew I had to concentrate on what I could control, which was to keep my head down and keep working to get better. That’s what I did.”
Campbell’s story is not that of an underdog who overcame the odds to find success. That’s a big part of what makes his story of delayed gratification unique.
In 2009, he was the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. He was a Parade All-American and a 5-star recruit in Taylorsville, a small town just north of Hattiesburg. His commitment to Auburn was met with great fanfare and anticipation for immediate success. But it didn’t happen.
Campbell redshirted as a freshman, then split time on the field the following two seasons with Daniel Cobb, who was a great competitor but not the athlete Campbell was, especially after dealing with injuries. Fans began to whisper that maybe Campbell was overrated or even a bust.
But he kept working. Campbell led Auburn to an undefeated season in 2004 before being selected in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He eventually earned $25 million during his nine-year NFL career.
In this age of “play me now or I’ll transfer to another school,” Campbell’s story should be required reading for young prospects, especially those who were so highly recruited like him.
It’s important to understand the distinction between Campbell and a player like Mac Jones, who arrived at Alabama with a lower recruiting ranking and far fewer expectations for immediate success.
“You’ve got to stay the course,” Campbell said. “There are so many things you can’t control. That’s one thing I had to learn. The only thing I could control was how hard I worked, how I just kept my head down and kept sawing wood. I think that’s what a lot of these young guys do nowadays — they jump to the transfer portal so fast because things don’t go their way right out of high school.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to stay the course, man. You could be running away from something great for yourself at your university. You learn the most about yourself when you’re challenged. Early in my career, I had to go through some things. But it helped me grow up, it helped me mature and helped me be a great football player, and even a better person, I feel like.
“These kids, they live off so many promises. They want coaches to promise them something. The only promise you can make is a commitment — once you’re there, you’re there. You’re not going to be like a wave that’s going to keep being high and low. Things go your way, you’re all in. Things don’t go your way, you check out. You can’t have those types of guys. You’ve got to have guys that are all in, all the time.
“That’s how you win championships, and that’s how you grow as a person. If you’re looking for it being red carpets every day when you get on campus, you’re going to be mistaken. That just doesn’t happen. There are other guys there just as talented, and you’re all competing. Don’t run from competition, embrace it. You’ll be a better football player.
“Football is supposed to be fun, but it’s tough, too. They teach you a lot about life. I wouldn’t trade it, not one bit. The guys I went through it with, we’re a brotherhood. A lot of guys want to skip through college right to the pros. I tell them to enjoy the process. When you get to the pros, you’ll have your time. Don’t be in such a hurry all the time.”
There is so much wisdom in what Campbell has to share. Hopefully, there will be more players in the future who follow his sage advice.
Randy Kennedy, who has been a leading voice on the Gulf Coast sports scene for 19 years, writes a weekly column for Lagniappe. His sports talk show airs weekdays from 2-6 p.m. on Sports Talk 99.5 and the free iHeart app.
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