The newspaper industry provided me a four-decade career experiencing inspiration, dedication and just plain fun. The start of my career covering the Chargers, college, high school sports and Olympic athletes came full circle with Don Coryell’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction on August 5 in Canton, Ohio. I helped Hall of Famer Dan Fouts with research on Coryell’s remarkable record of first-time Pro Bowlers with the SAN DIEGO Chargers and Cardinal for Fouts’ presentation to the voters.
PHOTO (News & Observer): Southern Durham 4-star defensive lineman Isaiah Campbell.
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By TOM SHANAHAN
DURHAM — One byproduct of the modern college football recruiting world is hype around prospect rankings generated among competing internet subscription services. It’s ripe for 5- and 4-star players to exploit — or to distract them.
Southern Durham junior Isaiah Campbell, a 6-foot-5, 265-pound defensive lineman, attracts that kind of national notice as a 4-star. In North Carolina, he is rated between No. 3 and 5 among the Class of 2025 prospects. Nationally, he’s listed among the top 10 defensive linemen and top 100 overall players. His 30-some offers include the usual suspects of schools collecting top players following each other — Alabama, Georgia, Clemson and a handful of others.
And in a new category for high school seniors that projects dollar values for Name, Image and Likeness (NIL), this time next year Campbell can expect to command six-figures leverage.
Whew! That’s plenty of air to inflate one’s ego.
Bring on the recruiting trips. Show some swag. How many hats should be collected to place on a table for the day one is donned, revealing the college destination.
So, how has Campbell handled his national celebrity recruiting stature? He doesn’t check his phone for recruiting messages until his schoolwork is done.
Want to know the gear he wore during team meetings on Monday before practice? A plain white tank top and non-descript grey sweat pants.
By now, many top prospects have hinted –subtly or by a slip of the tongue — their favored destination. Recruiting sites typically list the leader with a 70-, 80- or 90-percent edge. The bigger the name, the more likely the leader is one of the College Football Playoff regulars.
But nothing says Campbell hasn’t let recruiting hype distract him more than his On3.com school projections: North Carolina, 26.1; Duke, 18.3; and NC State, 15.7. Alabama and Clemson are 3.5 each.
We’re only two weeks into the season, but Campbell’s reputation has preceded him in Southern Durham (1-1) games. Teams run away from him or assign double-team blockers. He can expect more of the same when the Spartans travel for Friday’s 7 p.m. game at Burlington Williams (1-1).
But in Southern Durham’s 14-0 victory last week over Bull City rival Hillside at historic Duke County Memorial Stadium, he demonstrated his readiness. The game was scoreless until Campbell’s sack on a third-and-5 forced a punt. His explosive burst splitting two linemen into the backfield was a cowboy scene from of an old western — swatting open swinging doors to enter the saloon.
The sack helped flip field position and led to the Spartans driving for a 6-0 halftime lead on Jalen McKee’s 7-yard run.
“To block him in high school one on one is suicidal,” said Darius Robinson, Southern Durham’s 10th-year head coach.
The Spartans counter by moving him around, playing him over the center, outside the guard as a three-technique tackle or at defensive end. But Campbell wants to give himself chances beyond favorable matchups.
“Snap by snap, play by play, I want to be ready for the big moments so when I have a chance, I can make the big play,” he said. “It’s all about hand placement and power coming off the ball. That’s what coach Mack (Norris McCleary) teaches me. I’m just doing what my coaches teach me.”
On top of all that, here is the one word that guides him more than any 4-star label: “Thoroughly.” He learned it from his father, Chris Campbell, a UNC-Pembrook basketball player in the mid-2000s.
“My dad says I’ve got to do it ‘thoroughly,’” he said. “I want to earn it. I don’t want to just ride off my talent. Hard work beats talent.”
Campbell, who carries a 4.28 grade-point average, mentions his decision will come down to feeling comfortable with a coach who can teach techniques and a school with his desired major, computer science.
The casual recruiting approach also helped him fit in as the new kid in town. He played his sophomore year at Green Central High in Snow Hill.
The family moved to Durham over the summer when his mother, Crystal, a registered nurse, accepted a job at Duke Hospital that allows her to complete work toward her nurse practitioner degree, Doctor of Nursing Practice. His father was hired as a Southern Durham student counselor and he has a side practice as a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
Isaiah’s high school enrollment is old-school in age when many elite athletes are recruited and siphoned off by private schools. IMG in Florida made a pitch to him.
“I think he has plenty of support here,” Chris Campbell said. “Coach D-Rob is a great coach, and he has a great staff. His trainer, Andre Purvis, is here in Durham.”
Purvis was a defensive lineman with the Cincinnati Bengals, 1997-99, who played at North Carolina.
Upon arriving in town, Isaiah’s didn’t let the hype around him prevent him from quickly bonded with his fellow defensive linemen – all juniors, K.J. Liles (6-4, 285), Tyler “T.J.” Richmond (6-3, 225) and Elisha Roberts (6-1, 230). They call themselves the “Trench Mob.”
“They’re my brothers,” he said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Previous weekly features this season:
— August 25, Rolesville’s Isiah Jones, committed to NC State
— August 18, Millbrook’s Mason Fortune, underrated prospect.
Tom Shanahan is an author, award-winning writer and historian focused on college football integration. He is the author of “Raye of Light” and an upcoming second book, “The Right Thing to Do.” His story on the 1962 Rose Bowl and segregation was awarded first place by the Football Writers Association of America. Visit his website, TomShanahan.Repor
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RAYE OF LIGHT
Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1ntegration of College Football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans
Foreword by Tony Dungy