Sam Campbell's Dream Come True in 12 Days
Many people follow the National Football League, where hundreds of athletes that participated in BCS-type schools represent nearly the entire pool of players. Big names are usually followed even from their freshman year and are covered deeply by quite a number of large-market medias. In other words, if a student-athlete played at Alabama or USC and has high end numbers, then chances are, he will find a way to earn the spotlight one way or another on the biggest stage.
But what about the smaller schools that do not get much exposure? Many of these student-athletes do take pride in their education, still earning scholarships for academic or athletic reasons. But when the love of the game takes over after graduation, some may want to try and hang on to that dream and see if they can pursuit some higher ground.
That is what the Arena Football League has become for a lot of athletes who have come from small-market schools. It allows for them to soak up some spotlight, but at the same time still live the opportunity to represent a professional sports franchise. Many are very young and are still looking to make the big time, whereas others who have been around for nearly two decades refuse to leave because of what they have accomplished and earning the respect from its players and fan base.
“You have to love the game to come and play in the Arena Football League,” head coach Bob McMillen said. “You will not get wealthy or rich playing here. Usually all of these players are playing for a purpose, whether it is to win a championship or earn the right to participate in the NFL. I think we have a bunch of guys here on our team that go out there because they love the game of football and continue to play as long as they can.”
One person in particular took one of the more difficult, yet unique routes to finally become recognized and make a name for himself. On June 1, the Los Angeles KISS held open tryouts to try and find that diamond in the rough. The team had been hurting at 2-8 suffering a seven game winning streak at the time, and they were doing all that they could in order to bounce back. Holding tryouts during their bye week was one of those strategies.
Then comes along Sam Campbell, a recent graduate from Illinois State, who had been traveling all around the NFL combines to keep his dream alive. Standing at 6-2 and weighing around 320 pounds, he had played on both sides of the line, but was noted most well on exploding through the front. With his size, speed and agility, McMillen had seen something in him he could maybe transition into, especially in a very offense heavy Arena league.
“When I saw him, he had the perfect body type to play the fullback position,” McMillen said. “He may be a little undersized to play on the offensive line, but he has the strength to help us in the pits whenever we are in trouble. One thing I did see was that he was very aggressive and was not afraid to take on the blocks.”
“It feels like I am living a dream come true,” Campbell said. “When I told my family I was given a contract, my mom was in tears. It made it even harder since she was overseas in Poland on vacation. It has so far been a rewarding experience, but at the same time I know the work that I have put in and the things that I have done I would not have expected anything less of myself.”
“When he called me on Thursday before his first game, I was probably just as excited as he was,” his older brother Jacob Campbell said, who also played football at Langston University as a wide receiver. “Watching him play at Glendale Community College to start off and then for Illinois State after, seeing him get to this level after participating through some NFL combines lifted all of his weight. To all of a sudden go to one tryout and be offered a contract less than two weeks later was very exciting for me and the rest of the family.
Only a few players were invited back to suit up and participate on the scout team. Whenever you see the KISS practice, number 33 was one of the very few who would give it his all on the field. Even on an interception return, Campbell is always the last one chasing like a dog stalking his prey. He is in his own world away from the rest, knowing that he always wants to “show his best effort.”
Just twelve days after he threw in $100 to try out, he was awarded a contract for the rest of the season. Two days after, he was given the opportunity to not only suit up, but also participate in a kickoff return midway through the third quarter against the Portland Thunder. His siblings and friends raced down from the top of section 223 at the Honda Center, hovering over the edge to record what they could to relinquish the moment for one of their own on the field. During the kickoff, he even had an opportunity to recover a fumble before the ball had gone off the wall and out of bounds.
“Out on the field, I was just looking to make an impact,” Campbell said. “I just wanted to help my team out in any way, and when I was given the chance, I had the opportunity to show myself.”
While the KISS are still struggling to find their place in the league, many new faces are still trying to become one and unify as a team. For Campbell, just having the opportunity to play for a city like Los Angeles, live the dream, and be involved with a franchise that is still learning has helped considerably, growing the hearts of many that are loving for what they do.
Working with a solid staff and knowledgeable roster has also given Campbell the chance to get used to the fast paced league, standing alongside future hall of famer Aaron Garcia, and even Ohio State alum Kenny Guiton, who could be the replacement for Garcia in the future.
“Working with guys like McMillen and Garcia is like working with legends,” Campbell said. “McMillen has taken a lot of time with me, watching film and techniques to perfect my game because this was his position. Aaron has also helped boosted my confidence and tells me that it is okay to make mistakes, but show that you are willing to learn and get better.”
Even with football on his mind, he has also found ways to keep his faith spiritually. He is involved with his local church in Glendale, playing music with his family on Sundays behind the drums. Campbell with making the team has also given him another opportunity to share his passion and stay involved with everyone around him.
“Our family and I are very close, and Sam tries to keep up with that,” Jacob said. “He is heavily involved with our church, recording music with his step-mom and spreading the love. He has always had a big heart and loves what he does no matter what it may be.”
Just three weeks ago, he never realized that showing up for a tryout would alter his life for the better and quite possibly give him that spark he needs to move up.
“Right now, I am just trying to get to the point to where I am the permanent fullback position,” Campbell said. “I could not be more humble to be given this opportunity and show what I have to these wonderful group of guys.”
“Sam is not quite there yet, but he is learning to play in the fullback position,” McMillen said. “We like everything that he is doing and everything that he is about. He is a great kid that comes to practice every day and does the right things to prepare himself. We just as a team need to make the right decisions for him to make sure he is a part of our team win.”
“We all feel and he feels that he has the ability to excel in what he does,” Jacob said. “He has the size, the brains, and also the humbleness to be able to make it to that level. Sam's focus is usually what is in front of him and he knows his long term goals. But he is so humble and so grateful that he will always give his 110%. If those doors open up for higher grounds, he will do the exact same.”
Photo Credit: Manny Nunez, ArenaFan.com