One of the first lessons that athletes receive in youth sports is to never quit.
But two seasons into his UC football career, Garrett Campbell was told by athletics trainer Bob Mangine that he should consider quitting due to knee and back injuries.
“Bob sat me down with my parents,” Campbell said. “He said, ‘You’re at a very susceptible point. I don’t know how much more your body can take and I don’t know how long you can last. It’s a big risk. You might get to play for one or one-and-a-half years here. Is that worth it for you?’”
For the former St. Xavier High School standout the answer was yes.
“I love the game of football and I couldn’t turn my back to it,” Garrett told me. “I talked to my parents for a while and we all decided that it wasn’t time for me to leave yet. Bar none, it was the greatest decision I’ve ever made.
“I’ve had no problems since. It’s been wonderful. The strength staff has always taken care of me and all of my needs if something is sore or something is bothering me. My body feels great and I never thought it would.”
Since his injuries prevented him from playing in his first two seasons at Cincinnati (2013-14), Campbell has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. He was recently named to the watch list for the Allstate/AFCA Good Works Team and the Wuerffel Trophy, two awards which recognize players for the on- and off-field contributions to their school and community.
“You know what’s unbelievable?” he said. “I asked some of the incoming freshman this spring, ‘Where were you in 2013?’ And some of these guys were saying, ‘I was just starting my seventh grade year.’ I said, ‘When you started your seventh grade year, I was starting my first year of ball here at Cincinnati.’ That’s unbelievably mind-blowing to me. It flies by. I still feel like it’s my first or second year here.”
Campbell joined the Bearcats as a preferred walk-on before being awarded a scholarship prior to last season. His return for a sixth year means that the Bearcats will have a veteran back who started every game at left guard last season.
“Any time you can have a guy back who is going into his sixth year and has started every game for the last year, it gives your group a guy that they can lean on,” said offensive line coach Ron Crook. “A guy who has seen everything and has been through everything.”
“Garrett coming back gives up a lot of stability,” said head coach Luke Fickell. “He’s a guy that’s been here for a while and played a lot of ball for us.”
When the 23-year-old arrived at UC, he wasn’t sure that he would play at all.
“I always tell this to the young guys,” Campbell said. “I used to watch the upperclassmen on film and I would see them move so quick and react so quick and I was like, ‘I will never reach that point. I’ll never get there.’ Now when I see myself on film, it’s like, ‘Is that me? Am I doing that?’ It’s a dream come true to see myself in those shoes now.”
“He’s very methodical about everything that he does,” said Crook. “He’s prepared, he works hard, he takes great notes in the meetings and he watches a lot of film on his own. Because of that preparedness and because of the way he approaches things, he puts himself in a really good position when he goes out on the field.”
Campbell is also a success story off of the field. He earned his undergraduate degree last December and posted a perfect 4.0 GPA in the spring semester.
“I have dreams of pursuing med school after this,” he said. “I’ve already graduated with my pre-med degree and now I’m actually working with Bob Mangine down in the training room on a research study with the UC track athletes which has been a phenomenal experience for me. Getting real life experience like that and possibly being involved in a medical journal is going to help me in the long run. It’s really setting me up for the future.”
But first he has a sixth and final year of college football to look forward to.
“My first couple of years were hard,” Garrett told me. “I’ve had three different offensive line coaches here and two head coaches. That’s been difficult and a blessing for me. All of the coaches bring in a lot of great stuff that I can pick and pull from to develop my technique. But the downside is changing every year and re-learning a coach and his system. Under some I thrived and under some I didn’t. Under the ones I didn’t, it was a grind. I was really in the pits and didn’t love football at the time. But I knew that it wasn’t time for me to quit. I knew that there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. So I knew that I had to keep pushing through it and when Coach Crook came, it was that pot of gold. It’s been an unbelievable experience and I’ve really connected with him. He’s a great coach and a great guy and for me it was a turnaround.
“The one regret that I have is that I couldn’t get five or six years with this staff. I don’t know where I would be now if they were here.”
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