Will Campbell, regretful about youthful mistakes, trying to prove his NFL worth
Campbell strips out of his sweats for the workout, revealing ... neon-green leggings.
"Dark maize," he quips. "You like them, don't you? I know I look good."
The former Michigan defensive tackle is loose these days, after spending the past six weeks with St. Vincent Sports Performance in Indianapolis. His four-year college career is behind him and, he hopes, the pros not far off.
But the shine of being a hot-shot prospect has long worn off. He was a five-star recruit of Detroit Cass Tech in 2009, but loafed through two years at Michigan, didn't turn the corner until his senior year and now finds his back against the wall.
Campbell is considered by some to be a late-round prospect. Others say he won't be selected at all.
"This was my breakout year, and it sounds like it's a little too late to break out," he said before an early morning workout last week. "I'm kind of mad I matured so late. I mean, it's all on me. It was me being lazy, me not listening to the coaches, me not fitting in their scheme, me being too big, not being fast enough."
Campbell showed up at Michigan in summer 2009 weighing a whopping 356 pounds. He was far too big and far too out of shape to be an impact player in former coordinator Greg Robinson's 3-4 scheme.
He didn't play much in 2009, nor 2010, and at one point requested to move to the offensive line in search of more playing time.
Campbell moved back to the defensive line when coach Brady Hoke was hired in 2011, and still didn't play much with Mike Martin anchoring his position. But a transformation began, starting with getting his weight in order.
"(Hoke) would make sure I didn't come into the facility with any Honey Buns," Campbell said with a laugh. "He asked me every day what my weight was. We weighed in every Monday, but he asked me every day, 'How's that weight doin'?' and he'd hit me on the stomach.
"Without that, I wouldn't be in the shape I am today."
Then, it all started to click for him last offseason.
Ask Campbell now about his most memorable moment at Michigan, and he won't say the comeback win against Notre Dame in 2011, or running onto the field as a starter against Alabama in 2012, or beating Ohio State or Michigan State.
He says it was Hoke basically forcing him to become a leader last year, achieved partly by having Campbell speak regularly with the media. That job is normally reserved for top players such as Jordan Kovacs and Denard Robinson last year, or Martin, Ryan Van Bergen and David Molk in 2011.
Campbell, to that point, was an unnatural pick for those duties. But it helped him become a natural voice of the team, on and off the field, and he took that responsibility to heart.
"That was probably the biggest thing, him asking me to do all those interviews with the media," Campbell said. "I was surprised by that. I didn't know why he chose me. I hadn't done anything. And the first one, when he told me I'd be doing interviews every week before the season even started, I was like, 'Uhhh, OK, all right. I guess, OK, I'll do it.'
"But me doing that helped me out a lot. Like with the interviews at the East-West Shrine Game, I was comfortable with it. I feel like I did really well with the interviews. I feel like Coach Hoke's been setting me up since Day 1. That's why I love the guy."
Campbell finally matured into a productive starter last season, finishing with 44 tackles and being named all-Big Ten honorable mention by the media. He played at 6-foot-5, 308 pounds -- nearly 50 pounds lighter than his freshman weight.
He leaped from Michigan backup to NFL Draft prospect in a single season.
ESPN analyst Todd McShay said Campbell is Michigan's best draft prospect after Robinson.
"I like him on tape," McShay said recently. "I just think he's strong. He's a guy who can take up space and I think fits well in the 3-4, and there's value there.
"I just think he has to continue to improve his hands and do some little things to improve as a player, but he can play at the next level."
Campbell is left to wonder what could have happened if he had another year at Michigan -- or if he would have figured things out sooner.
"I got better as we played more games," he said. "But I just wish, every day, I would have started earlier, I wish they would have gotten to me earlier. With another season, I'd be in the combine."
Instead, while more than 300 players and front office personnel from every NFL descended on Indianapolis on Thursday for the combine, Campbell was 25 minutes uptown training at this quiet facility, biding his time, waiting for his turn to impress.
But he's not feeling sorry for himself. He raves about his position coach with St. Vincent Sports Performance, Larry Coyer, a longtime college and NFL assistant who coordinated the Indianapolis Colts' defenses from 2009-11.
"He's an old-school type of guy," Campbell said. "He really knows the game. He kind of reminds me of Coach Hoke, actually, with his belly and everything.
"He's a good guy, and definitely knows what the hell he's doin'."
Campbell worked out in Indianapolis for six weeks, a training that included 8 a.m.-to-5 p.m. sessions three days per week, and workouts six days a week. He's also on a strict diet.
He said he chose the six-week Indy regimen over options in Dallas and Miami because of that rigid structure. The program even set up housing at the Embassy Suites hotel.
Campbell returned to Ann Arbor this week and will work out at Michigan, with strength coach Aaron Wellman, as well as at Eastern Michigan as he prepares for the Wolverines' pro day March 14.
"I've heard, and I've seen, they basically try to kill you at the pro day to see how you react when you're tired," he said. "So the biggest thing I'm going to do is stay in shape, run a lot.
"I just want for that not to happen again -- for me to have to watch from the sideline, to not have a chance to play. I don't want to be a spectator. I don't want to watch anymore. I just want to play."
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