Distraction takes a closer look at one of UM’s most popular and recognizable athletes. Everyone’s favorite defensive end, Calais Campbell, is even better than you thought.
photographs_kelly asher & nathan garrison
AT 6′8″ TALL, CALAIS CAMPBELL is one of the Miami Hurricanes most identifiable athletes. But not just because of his size – Campbell’s personality is even larger than his huge frame gives him credit for. He is undoubtedly a fan favorite, and one of the most popular jersey numbers in the stands. If UM is our home, then Calais Campbell is a household name. A celebrity among the undergraduates, you’d be hard-pressed to hear him boast, and even more-so to catch him without a smile on his face —unless of course it’s game time.
“I’m a firm believer that everything happens for a reason,” touts Calais Campbell, the former ‘Canes’ All-American senior defensive end (Campbell graduated in December). And perhaps, at least for number 81, these are words to live by.
Campbell, originally from Aurora, Colorado, was a standout athlete in both football and basketball as a kid. As one of eight children, six boys and two girls, the Campbell household was always ripe for competition.
“My house was definitely competitive,” says Campbell. “I have five brothers, the oldest is 25 and the youngest is 18. So six of us were split by seven and a half years…and we all played sports.” Backyard football took on a whole new meaning.
CAMPBELL’S FRIENDLY DEMEANOR off the field may be explained by his close family life, which is also responsible for his athletic prowess. Grooming through household competition helped give Campbell his athletic edge, contributing to his reputation as one of the most feared defenders in NCAA football.
“My oldest brother is the only [brother] that didn’t go to college on an athletic scholarship. He went on an academic scholarship.” Sending six children to college is an accomplishment in and of itself, but to send them all on scholarship is simply remarkable.
Two of his brothers, Ciarre and Severin, play for the University of Montana. Raj plays for Division II Adams State College in Colorado. Younger brother Jared is a freshman defensive back for the Hurricanes. Even at Miami, Campbell couldn’t avoid family competition, but he says he’s enjoyed playing with younger brother Jared and believes it helps him relax on the field.
“It’s crazy,” Campbell says. “He knows me more so than anybody else, and he helps me be more myself. I’ve gotten to know all my teammates, and then with him here, it kind of brings out an extra edge and hustle that really shows who I am [as a player].”
FOR CAMPBELL, THE DECISION TO COME TO MIAMI wasn’t as easy as following his older brother, like Jared did. He was also recruited by Nebraska, Louisiana State, Michigan, and Oklahoma, but Campbell ultimately made his decision based on which school was the best fit for his personality. “I felt like [Miami] was a family that I’m not going to find anywhere,” Campbell recalls, “and I found it the best chance to get to the next level, and really be a part of something great.”
Practicing alongside his brother wasn’t the only adjustment Campbell had to make at the start of this season. After a turbulent 2006 season, the decision was made to part ways with head coach Larry Coker, who led the Hurricanes to the 2001 National Championship in his first year at the helm. Randy Shannon, who won a title as a player, a grad assistant, and a coach, was named as Coker’s successor on December 8, 2006. Like most of the players on the team, Campbell acknowledges Coker’s ability on the sideline, but it is in other areas where Shannon has established himself as the right man for the job.
“They’re both great coaches,” Campbell says impartially, “but Coach Shannon is definitely more about discipline…and I think we needed that. Coach Shannon does a good job bonding with all the players, and since he’s been through it before…it makes [respecting him] a lot easier.”
While things seemed great for Campbell, he has overcome much more than just a coaching change and a year on the bench during his time at Miami. Freshman year Campbell red-shirted, giving him an extra year of eligibility and time to grow as a player, something he says was very important.
“I think the best thing about red-shirting is that you get a chance to get adjusted to the college life,” says Campbell. “High school ball is so different from college ball. You’ve got to get used to it, and when you’re playing against the most talented guys in the nation [during practice], it helps harden your game and gives you an extra year before you actually get on the field to show what you can do.”
After only starting one game his sophomore season, Campbell enjoyed a break-out season in 2006, recording 10.5 sacks and three forced fumbles. By the season’s end, Campbell was ranked among the top 10 prospects for the 2008 NFL Draft. Crediting his fans, Campbell reveals, “I feed off the crowd too. The crowd really gets me into the game. And when you make a play and you look up in the stands and see all the fans cheering—man, that’s the best feeling in the world.”
THEN ON NOVEMBER 7, 2006, something no one expected happened; something Campbell firmly believes “happened for a reason.” Bryan Pata, a senior defensive end for the Hurricanes, was fatally shot outside of his apartment shortly after practice. So many people were affected by this tragedy, but few as deeply as Campbell, who played defensive line alongside Pata for the previous two years.
“It’s tough,” Campbell says quietly about the loss of Bryan Pata, “especially when it happens to somebody close to you, somebody you see all the time. Then all the sudden he’s gone. But everything happens for a reason. I believe in God, and when God says it’s time to go, it’s time to go. You just got to remember the good times.”
For Campbell, good times may be how he is remembered most. Campbell admits that he likes to have fun, but he knows where to draw the line.
“It depends on the mood,” Campbell says of a typical Thursday night, laughing to himself. “Sometimes it’s the Grove, sometimes it’s a house party, sometimes it’s South Beach. It depends. I was known to be a little bit of a partier but I don’t party too much anymore.”
IN A TIME WITH SO MUCH NEGATIVE TALK about athletes and their massive egos, Campbell is the exception to the rule. Students feel comfortable around Campbell, which is exactly what he wants. Tall and commanding, he has a a powerful presence. In reality, however, Campbell is just looking to make as many friends as possible during his time here.
“I am a very social person,” Campbell writes in his Facebook profile. “I like to meet new people all the time. I figure the more people I know, the better off I am. Well just as long as I leave good impressions. I am always having fun no matter what I am doing.”
From a large family in Colorado, to an even bigger one here in Miami, Calais Campbell has grown from a boy who dreamed of playing in the NFL to a man on the verge of making that dream a reality. He has persevered through those rough times, and has always done so with a friendly smile on his face. If things truly do happen for a reason, he is in store for quite an NFL career, whenever that time comes.
*Calais Campbell was selected by the Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the 2008 NFL Draft. He has agreed to a four year contract, however the details of the contract are not disclosed.