Campbell makes big impact

At 5-6, 165 pounds, Navy slotback defies preconceived notions with speed, power


Long before he served notice to the college football world on national television that he was not to be taken lightly, the smallest man on the Navy roster loomed large in the eyes of the people close to him.

In some ways, junior slotback Reggie Campbell, all 5 feet 6, 165 pounds of him, symbolizes the essence of football at the academy.

On a roster packed with players deemed not big or fast enough by most Division I-A recruiters, Campbell is a striking combination of speed, power and toughness. At a place where any showboating is held in contempt, Campbell remains the same shy, modest kid who was a football, track and weightlifting star at Lake Mary High School in Sanford, Fla. And he would rather not go on much about his on-field exploits.

Campbell's admirers do not hold back.

"He's a soft-spoken dude, and that makes you want to work even harder for him," senior quarterback Brian Hampton said. "He's a small but big gift."

"He's what you want as far as being a team player. He's always been humble. He's self-motivated. He's not one to sit around and rest on his laurels," said Reggie Campbell Sr., who, along with his wife, Joan, sat in Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last Dec. 22 and watched their son tie an NCAA postseason record by scoring five touchdowns in the Poinsettia Bowl. That sparked Navy's 51-30 torching of Colorado State.

"We were expecting him to do fairly well," Reggie Sr. said. "That was unreal. I was basically speechless."

Campbell has a way of doing that to observers. He raises eyebrows in the weight room, where he has bench-pressed 300 pounds and recorded a squat of 460, tops among the slotbacks.

Think about that the next time you see him drop a larger, opposing linebacker or defensive back in a heap, which is a Campbell specialty. During a victory at Duke last fall, Campbell was credited with 10 "knockdowns."

No wonder the Mids want the ball in Campbell's hands as often as possible, whether as a runner, receiver or return man. He pulls away from would-be tacklers with a sprinter's burst, and powers through them with those strong legs. Defenders hungry for a clean shot at Navy's little big man often are disappointed.

"I think it's harder to hit a smaller dude than a big guy. Sometimes [the defender] doesn't see me coming until it's too late," said Campbell, who piled up 290 of last season's team-high 1,115 all-purpose yards in the Poinsettia Bowl.

But please, don't make too much of his statistics. "I try not to let it go to my head, because I know just as easily as it happened, it could be taken away or happen to somebody else," he added. "I was fortunate and blessed that it was me that night. It made me realize I would have to work harder to solidify myself and help my teammates."

Campbell, who turned 21 yesterday, said he holds no grudges against the schools that passed on him during the recruiting process, or offered only a walk-on opportunity. He understood their reservations. Yet, it has not stopped him from carving a familiar, successful path to reach this point.

His father, who stands 5-8, became a star linebacker and won a pair of state weightlifting titles in high school, then played for two years at Division II West Virginia State before joining the Army ROTC.

Reggie Sr. ended up a commissioned military police officer and served for eight years in the U.S. Army Reserve. He has worked for 20 years with the Orlando (Fla.) Police Department, the past 13 as a homicide detective.

"I experienced some of the things [Reggie] is going through. I think it helped him prepare for what is transpiring now," said Reggie Sr., who said Richmond was among the Division I-AA schools that pursued his son. "Once he made the visit [to Navy], we canceled the rest of them. He admired the camaraderie there. A lot of them were going through the same things [regarding recruiting] he was."

Navy slotbacks coach Jeff Monken recalled first hearing about Campbell from quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper, who found Campbell on the recruiting trail. Monken admitted he was a bit taken aback by Campbell's height. His doubts began to dissolve as soon as he popped in a tape highlighting Campbell's high school career.

"We can't get hung up on size here, but it still opens your eyes when you see a guy is 5-6. That's small," Monken said. "But as soon as you turned that tape on, you didn't care about 5-6. One play after the next, [Campbell] is running through tackles and running away from everybody on the field."

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