Michigan's Will Campbell wrapping up vexing career by playing his best football
ANN ARBOR -- Few players have offered more frustration the past few years than Will Campbell.
The mammoth Michigan defensive tackle arrived on campus as a five-star recruit, and was tagged accordingly with steep expectations. Expectations he consistently failed to live up to.
Each preseason offered more Will Campbell hype -- that he was figuring things out, that this was his year -- and yet, he was standing on the sideline more often than not.
Not this year.
Campbell, a bust through three seasons, was going to be a starter this year under most circumstances because of the loss of tackles Mike Martin and Will Heininger to graduation. There was little experience behind the senior, so it was going to be him.
And he's risen to that challenge. He's still not a high-level player, as his recruiting hype suggested he'd become, but is a steady producer on Michigan's improving defensive line.
Campbell has 32 tackles, which leads the defensive linemen, and also one sack. He had 19 tackles and two sacks in his first three seasons combined.
The trigger for Campbell's improvement appears to be his considerable weight loss. After arriving on campus at 356 pounds, he's now down to about 308. He's dropped the Honey Buns, and the pounds have followed.
"Last year, I don't think I could have (played this many snaps) because I wasn't in shape -- as good of shape as I am now," Campbell said. "I've grown a lot since last year."
Campbell also has thrived under the coaching of Brady Hoke, who works directly with the interior linemen. That means the tackles get tutoring from Hoke, defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and position coach Jerry Montgomery.
That's one reason the defensive line has made such significant in-season growths in this staff's first two years, and Campbell has benefited as much as anyone.
"It's been bumpy, it's been up and down," Campbell said. "I wish I was under this coaching staff all four years, but I wasn't, so the opportunities they gave me I just tried to capitalize on.
"I'm not saying that (the previous staff held me back). I was just lazy and young, and didn't realize the opportunities in front of me."
That attitude has changed with age. And with one home game left in a largely vexing career, Campbell appears to be playing his best football as he prepares to bid adieu to the hometown crowd.
"Will Campbell is a guy who’s really grown and probably played his best football game (against Northwestern),” Hoke said. “Uh, really grown -- well in some ways he hasn’t grown. He’s gotten thinner.
"I think his approach to the game (has helped), and you see that. You see that in guys who become juniors and seniors that are focused. Their mind-set, how they prepare. That’s part of it. Leadership’s part of it.
"The comfort zone a guy gets because he’s been through it and been through the struggles.”