Michigan's Will Campbell has been praised before, but Brady Hoke explains why this year is different
Campbell has yet to live up to the lofty expectations that were placed upon him coming out of Detroit Cass Tech, where he developed into a five-star recruit who was among the most sought-after players in the country.
Now a senior defensive tackle for the Michigan football team, Campbell's numbers remain pedestrian: one career start, 19 career tackles, two career sacks.
But he's already being penciled into the starting lineup for this season, and the descriptors that for so long defined him have flipped 180 degrees with less than a week before the start of fall camp.
Why is this year different than last year, when he received similar praise? It starts with his weight.
Will Campbell: 'Model'
Campbell began his Michigan career a robust 356 pounds -- and his foot speed and agility reflected it. He's since acknowledged to being "lazy" and "overweight."
But he's slimming down.Campbell played last season at 322 pounds, then reported to this year's spring camp at 315. This summer, he's trimmed out to a tidy 308 pounds.
Michigan coach Brady Hoke says he would like to see Campbell play next season at about 312 to 314 pounds, which means he actually has to gain weight -- a true testament to how far he's come this offseason.
"I think he started losing all that weight and he thinks he looks handsome or something -- thinks he’s going to model," Hoke said last week.
Will Campbell: 'Gazelle'
As the pounds rolled off, Campbell's athleticism picked up.
Campbell has been sharply criticized for his footwork and technique -- specifically, for standing up too straight -- but his weight loss has helped to correct some of those issues.
Especially the footwork.
Melanie Maxwell | AnnArbor.com
"He’s unreal," junior left tackle Taylor Lewan said. "He's just unbelievable. Coming in at a sloppy 350, and now he’s just a toned-down 308 kind of guy.
"His conditioning shows it. You should seem him run -- it’s like a gazelle. Unreal."
Hoke said the conditioning also has bolstered Campbell's endurance, an important step for a player who is going from role player to full-time starter for the first time in his career -- and whose backup will lack experience, not matter who wins that job.
Can he hold up taking sustained snaps for the first time since high school? This is an important step.
Will Campbell: 'Point guard'
The juxtaposition between a guy such as Campbell -- a highly touted recruit with few results -- and safety Jordan Kovacs -- a former walk-on who became a four-year starter -- could not be more stark.
But Kovacs says Campbell understood this offseason he has only one more run at it, and then his career is over. He embraced that pressure during rigorous offseason workouts.
"He lost too much weight," Kovacs said. "I think he thinks he’s a point guard now."
Not bad for a guy who used to look more like a bowler than anything else. And while Kovacs meant it in terms of Campbell's physique, it might as well have applied to his attitude as well.
Hoke said Campbell is among the players who has visited his office the most this offseason. Kovacs said he's turned into a weight room warrior, and that he's even taken to shepherding the young guys to help them avoid the arduous path he created for himself.
He's hosted film sessions with the defensive linemen, and organized workouts.
In the end, that leadership appears to be the biggest difference in Campbell.
The lineman was praised at last year's Big Ten media days, too, for getting his weight in order, for turning a corner in the offseason -- but when the season rolled around, he remained a reserve player who rarely had an impact on Saturdays.
When asked why this year is different, Kovacs said "he’s been our most vocal leader in practices and the weight room, and I think that’s been a pleasant surprise. I think he’s really bought into the program."
Hoke cited a lot of reasons for why Campbell has failed to live up to his billing, notably his move from defense to offense, then back to defense, and a revolving door of position coaches and coordinators.
Summed up in word, though, Hoke says it comes down to maturity -- and Campbell is finding it.
Why is this year different?
"Sometimes when you have someone playing in front of ya who’s pretty good, you don’t see where you're going to have an opportunity," Hoke said, referring to Campbell playing behind All-Big Ten tackle Mike Martin.
"Well, that opportunity is how many days away now -- 35?"
Thirty-two, and Michigan's fortunes that day against Alabama will be in part a function of whether Campbell is ready to finally anchor the Wolverines defensive line.