IOWA CITY, Ia. – Reese Morgan was headed to the locker room after an Iowa game at Kinnick Stadium last season when he spotted Jack Campbell in front of him.
Morgan looked at me, pointed at Campbell and nodded his head. I got the message.
Keep an eye on this kid. He’s going to be a good one.
Morgan, whose judge of talent is unimpeachable in the eyes of Kirk Ferentz, retired after the 2018 season. But one of his parting gifts to Iowa football was spotting Campbell at Cedar Falls High School, and getting Iowa’s foot in the recruiting door.
Campbell, an elite all-stater for the Tigers, picked the Hawkeyes over Iowa State and Minnesota.
He saw action in 11 games as a true freshman for the Hawkeyes in 2019, starting one game. This season, after missing the first three games due to mononucleosis, Campbell is making an impact at the middle linebacker position he’s sharing with Seth Benson. Campbell was impossible to miss in the second half of last week’s 26-20 victory over Nebraska, making play after big play.
“I just tried to focus on how I could put myself in the right position to help the
defense and ultimately help the team,” the 6-5, 243-pounder said.
When you ask Ferentz a question, often it comes with an added bonus: a history lesson.
Asked Tuesday what he liked the most about Campbell in the recruiting process, Ferentz said, “Everything about the guy, and I’m not saying he’s Chad Greenway. But you guys have heard me tell the story when Chad was in our locker room in 2000. It was the Northwestern game, and we won. It was a big win for us. We didn’t have many back then, that’s for sure. And I just remember seeing him in the back of the locker room, and seeing his face. It looked like he had played in the game. He was so wrapped up and so enthused. There are some guys that just kind of strike you that way and it’s like, I don’t know who that guy is but we need him on our team and it
worked out pretty well.”
Greenway, a first-team all-Big Ten linebacker in 2004 and 2005 and a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2006, played 11 seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection before retiring after the 2016 campaign.
Those are big shoes for Campbell to fill, but there are some similarities. Morgan recruited Greenway out of Mount Vernon, S.D. He watched him play basketball as well as football when making his evaluation. He did the same with Campbell, who played on the Tigers’ state championship basketball team in 2018.
And Campbell strikes Ferentz the same way that Greenway did.
“He just really enjoys playing and he enjoys competing, whether it’s football,
basketball, whatever he’s doing he’s fully focused on that,” Ferentz said. “He gives 100…more than 100 percent. It’s fun to watch him train in the summer. He’s one of those guys that takes great pride in doing his best.”
Campbell has linebacker genes. His father, Dave, played the position at Northern Iowa from 1986 to 1989. The key to Campbell’s success runs deeper than athletic talent or instinct. He thrives on competition. And it touches on the value of playing more than one sport in high school.
“As a multisport athlete, you pick up so much stuff from different sports, different things that I think can transition well into college,” said Campbell, who also lettered in track at Cedar Falls. “Just having the edge of competing year around. I feel like they’re missing out on valuable opportunities to compete throughout the winter or spring.”
The emergence of Campbell and Benson, a 6-foot, 231-pounder from Sioux Falls, S.D., who also played in every game as a true freshman, comes at an important time for a position of need. Returning starter Djimon Colbert elected to opt out the season, and Dillon Doyle transferred to Baylor.
The fact that Benson missed the first game and Campbell the first three didn’t help, but both are making up for lost time. Ferentz said both have played well since returning to the field.
“Seth was under recruited,” Ferentz said. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world but a heck of a football player. Same thing, he’s got the right mentality to play. You get guys like that, it makes your whole team better and both those guys do that.”
Campbell said that missing the first three games “wasn’t too fun. You want to be out there competing with your teammates. But standing on the sidelines gives you a different perspective.”
The Wave, when those in Kinnick Stadium wave to kids in the Stead Family
Children’s Hospital at the end of the first quarter, provided that perspective.
“I guess you could feel sorry for yourself,” Campbell said. “At the same time, you see things from a whole different perspective of just how lucky we are to be able to see, be able to walk. When you wave to the kids in the hospital you realize just how fortunate you are. Mono is not as bad as what a lot of those kids are going through. Every day is not a promise, and I can take that to practice and work my tail off.”
Campbell gets motivation from his position coach, Seth Wallace, who pushes him to become better.
“He never lets me get complacent, which I really appreciate,” Campbell said.
“On some days it’s not too fun. But I know it’s for my best, and the team’s best. He does it to me, and throughout the whole linebacker room, just to keep guys moving forward and improving and developing. He’s done a lot for me, and I owe him a lot.”
Motivation also comes from senior linebacker Nick Niemann, a leader on defense and the team’s top tackler (28 solos, 33 assists).
“He’s a fifth-year senior,” Campbell said. “He knows what he’s doing. He sets an example for the younger guys. How we do things here, how we act, stuff like that. He’s very focused and detail oriented. Someone all the guys look up to.”
Campbell and Benson, who is listed as the starter, are competing for playing time at the same position. But that competition hasn’t affected camaraderie between the two.
“Seth’s a great kid, and he’s doing a great job,” Campbell said. “The rotation, that’s going to come down to Coach Ferentz and the staff. I’m more than willing to take one snap or 75 snaps, it’s all up to them. I just want to make sure you guys all know that Seth is doing a great job, and I’m super proud of him.”
Campbell approaches each day, each snap, with a single-minded approach.
“I try to learn from every single play, whether it’s good or bad,” he said. “Even if I have a good play, I can make it quicker. And on a bad play, I’m not going to hang my head on that. I move on to the next play and keep going.”