Will Campbell regretful he learned lessons the hard way, helping others avoid his fate
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Will Campbell was a bust of the highest order. Every year offered more hype, and every year he disappointed.
It took him two full seasons to post as many tackles (five) as recruiting stars.
But as a senior, he's finally blossomed.
The Michigan defensive tackle is far from an All-American, but has emerged as one of the Big Ten's better run-stuffers. He recorded 44 tackles -- more than doubling the 19 from his first three seasons -- and was named all-Big Ten honorable mention by the media.
He's expected to anchor the middle of the 19th-ranked Wolverines' line one last time Tuesday against No. 11 South Carolina (10-2) in the Outback Bowl.
Campbell's path into the starting lineup was a long, arduous journey that is marked by well-publicized bouts with his weight, which cascaded into bouts with fatigue and technique flaws.
He ballooned as high as 356 pounds. He loved Honey Buns too much, running too little and didn't know what it took to turn his raw talent into actual talent.
"When I was younger, I was lazy," Campbell said. "I didn't listen as much, I didn't take everything in like I should of. There were people around me telling me, too -- it was just me not doing it."
Something changed when Brady Hoke's staff was hired in 2011: He started listening.
He says that winter camp was among the hardest times of his career, as he was pushed harder and harder. His weight came down, but his technique remained a mess.
This staff became the perfect remedy.
Hoke, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and defensive line coach Jerry Montgomery all having expertise in the position. Hoke coaches the interior linemen himself.
Most days, Campbell can't make a move without at least three sets of eyes on him. That's a blessing -- and a curse.
He recalled one sequence in which he recorded a tackle for loss, and while one coach congratulated him for the play, the others said he "had bad feet, bad hands, and I could have stripped the ball when I tackled him."
"It was on me, all the time -- on me, on me, on me," Campbell said of the attention. "Then it just clicked, I guess. Started working harder."
Campbell's progress was slow, but steady.
He knew coming into this year, though, he would have no choice but to expedite his growth. Not only was it his final season, but Michigan was losing three senior defensive linemen, including tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger.
Campbell sat down one day during spring camp this year with defensive end Craig Roh, and they made a commitment to each other.
"We kept hearing about three senior D-linemen gone, we need the D-line to step up," Campbell said. "It was everywhere. You saw it all the time everywhere, and me and Craig Roh sat down one day and had a talk and said, 'It's on us. We're the two seniors, we need to step it up and bring somebody along because we're going to need help.'"
They've done just that, becoming the leaders of a defensive line that, although doesn't stack up with last year's group, has become better than expected.
Campbell finally turned his talent into production, and becoming one of Michigan's most improved players. He's happy to finally be giving back to the program that was so patient with him.
But now that he's staring down the barrel of his career finale, he can't help but think of the kind of player he could have been had he put all this together sooner. That fills him with regret.
"All the time," Campbell said. "From my sophomore year to now, it was a big jump from how I'd been playing.
"If I would have started earlier, I can just imagine how good I could have been. It's just regrets. I wish I would have started faster, caught on faster."
He learned that lesson the hard way.
He hopes others don't have to.
Campbell is using himself as a warning to Michigan's younger defensive linemen, a living testament to what can happen with hard work -- and won't happen without it.
"I look at younger players and see myself, when they're not going hard, and try to talk to them and help them out so they won't have to go through the same path I went through," he said.
"Just trying to tell them to pick it up and learn fast and early."
-- Download the Michigan football on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Download the Michigan basketball on MLive app for iPhone and Android
-- Follow Kyle Meinke and Nick Baumgardner on Twitter
-- Like MLive's Michigan Wolverines Facebook page