Slotback plays big role at Navy

5-foot-6 Campbell a `difference-maker'

October 10, 2007|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN REPORTER

Navy's 5-foot-6 slotback Reggie Campbell looked with expectation at college football recruiters five years ago, but his father told him not to get his hopes up.

Reggie Campbell's dad had been a 5-8 defensive back and linebacker in high school and knew how big college football programs looked at small players.

"It was easy for me to explain it to him," Reggie Campbell Sr. said. "I'd experienced it. I knew he was capable of performing well. And I knew a lot of Division I schools were concerned about the size of their skill players. I was trying to prepare him not to be too disappointed."

But then along came Navy, where the academy's minimum height requirement is 5 feet. At Navy, Campbell found a place where the football team is used to getting talented players in smaller packages.

As Navy (3-2) prepares to visit Pittsburgh (2-3) at Heinz Field tonight, the Mids' slotbacks and special teams coach Jeff Monken said Navy can be thankful assistant coach Ivin Jasper overlooked Campbell's size and recognized his ability.

"It isn't often you find a kid that size who can be a difference-maker, but Reggie has been that time and again for us," Monken said. "It takes a lot of `want to' and will to excel at this level being the size he is."

Tonight the Navy offense will be up against the nation's ninth-ranked defense. It will be a major challenge, but Campbell, the offensive team captain, said while the Mids respect the bigger Panthers, they are not overwhelmed by them.

"You just have to stay relaxed," he said. "Martin Luther King said, `The true measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy.'

"You can't panic in tough times, whether on the football field or somewhere else."

Campbell is what Monken calls the "best overall slotback we've had here" because the senior does everything well. (The slotback lines up behind the tackle or tight end, and the triple option is designed to often deliver the ball to him on the perimeter.) He is the team's leading kickoff returner (20.8-yard average), punt returner (4.7-yard average) and leads in all-purpose yards (714).

Over his Navy career he has averaged 7.6 yards per carry -- a number he has increased to 8.1 yards this season -- and has 3,432 all-purpose yards. Both rank third all time at Navy.

The calm, quiet Campbell said his efforts on and off the field have been eased by his family.

His father, a detective in the Orlando (Fla.) Police Department and a former Army captain, expected his children to be disciplined and responsible. Campbell's older brother, Tony Martin, went through ROTC at Florida A&M and is an Army captain serving in Iraq.

"I look up to both of them," Campbell said. "And I've learned a lot. Once I decided to come to Navy, Tony made the transition easier just because I had seen what he went through."

Campbell has declared his military preferences for surface warfare or aviation, a future the Navy will decide for him by the end of this year, based on the service's needs.

"I'm a real competitive person," he said. "I always want to go above what I'm expected to do. Every time one of the Navy [commitment] milestones came, I always told myself, `It's not that bad.'"

In fact, for Campbell and Navy it has been mostly very good.

There have been moments on the field when things have not gone according to plan. Navy coach Paul Johnson said his determined, multitalented player has to guard against letting one mistake lead to others, a situation that presented itself shortly after halftime 11 days ago against Air Force.

Campbell, back to receive the second-half kickoff, fumbled before recovering the ball and being tackled at the 13-yard line. On the next series he was dropped for a loss on first down and made two more mistakes before the Mids were forced to punt.

But as usual with Campbell, he responded with a big play. On the next series, he threw an impressive block freeing Zerbin Singleton for an 18-yard gain to keep a scoring drive alive.

Earlier, with his team behind 3-0, Campbell caught a pitch near the right sideline, made three tacklers miss as he cut back on an 18-yard run and scored in the left corner of the end zone.

Campbell, 22, sets goals each day for everything from going to class to joining his teammates in their effort to memorize a Bible passage before this season's Army game. "Every day I set goals," he said. "You have to. If I drop a pass, my goal is not to drop another one. My goal is not to drop the ball, period. Don't miss blocks. Take care of your responsibilities."

Monken, his position coach, nods and smiles. That's the player he knows.

"He leads in a different way," Monken said. "When something goes wrong, his reaction is to do something better with his next opportunity. The other guys admire that. And when he speaks, our kids listen because you seldom hear his voice."

sandra.mckee@baltsun.com

Tonight's game

Matchup -- Navy (3-2) at Pittsburgh (2-3)

Time -- 8

Site -- Heinz Field, Pittsburgh

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