April 16, 2018
Jon Cooper | The Good Word
Upperclassmen are supposed to lead by example.
But sometimes they’ll go beyond what’s expected and lead by word as well as deed.
Fourth-year defensive back Christian Campbell has been one of those sometimers.
Throughout the spring, the Ponchatoula, La., native has done it on the field, seeing significant time at each of Georgia Tech’s safety positions, and as a vocal leader, particularly for the 13 underclassmen among the 17 defensive backs on the Yellow Jackets’ roster.
“He’s repping a lot. He’s a little more experienced than some of those guys back there,” said head coach Paul Johnson. “I think that certainly he’s probably more adept at getting guys lined up and more confident than some of the other guys.”
Hearing such words from Johnson makes Campbell proud and serves as validation for the way he patiently waited and relentlessly worked to get a shot on the field.
“It’s great to hear,” said the Ponchatoula, La., native, with a smile. “I also feel like this is what I’ve worked for, so I kind of expected it in a sense. I’ve been working my butt off because I wanted that. I wanted the coaches to think of me in a leader role.”
It’s not just the coaches. His teammates have noticed as well. Even offensive veterans TaQuon Marshall and Jahaziel Lee have singled out Campbell for the leadership he is showing on the other side of the ball.
Lee knows first-hand how valuable Campbell’s words can be. He listened to his cousin and fellow Louisiana native, choosing Tech despite overtures from Baylor, among others. It was life-changing advice for Lee.
“He definitely helped me make my decision coming here and I think he was a big influence on me coming,” said Lee. “We talked, we had plenty of conversations at night time about coaches and how school was and you couldn’t beat it.”
Campbell was preaching from experience. He’d thought over his options coming out of high school and chose Georgia Tech over California, Arizona State, and local schools Tulane and Louisiana-Lafayette.
“I narrowed it down to Georgia Tech and Cal-Berkeley,” said Christian, a literature, media and communications major, with a focus in social justice. “The tipping point for here was the (2014) Orange Bowl. That kind of sealed the deal.”
When it comes to giving advice, Campbell considers everyone on the team his family. That’s especially true of his brothers — mostly younger brothers — in the youthful secondary, with whom he is freely forthcoming in offering advice.
Of course, being a leader has always been natural to Campbell, who actually was a quarterback in high school. For his career, he ran for 4,030 yards with 75 touchdowns and was a two-time all-state selection and district Player of the Year — winning unanimously as a senior, when he averaged 9.8 yards per carry and led the Green Wave to a school-best 11-0 season.
Things changed, however, when he got to Atlanta. Prior to his first spring in 2015, he broke his hand during Christmas break. Campbell sought to take that one bad break and make a good one out of it.
“When I came back in the spring, I knew that I wouldn’t be able to take snaps at quarterback with a broken right hand,” he recalled. “So I went to Coach Johnson and asked him if I could play defense.”
Campbell made the transition, redshirting as a freshman, then seeing sparse time on special teams as a redshirt freshman. However, he learned by observing and practicing with the upperclassmen in front of him.
“I’d say one of the biggest things I learned was take the game play-by-play and don’t let a play affect you because things like that will hold your game back,” he said. “Those guys really did a good job of living in the play.”
That’s what he wants to do in 2018. He’ll try and build off last season, when he played in all 11 games as a third-year sophomore, making nine tackles (four solo), with one tackle for loss and a pass-break-up.
The desire to raise his game has showed all spring.
“Every play, I’m out there, no matter what huddle I’m going with, I’m busting my butt so when it comes down to the coaches deciding who goes with what group, that I’m mentioned in that first huddle.
“I’d say this year would be the biggest year that you notice progression in my play,” he added. “I didn’t start off at defens,e so I had to kind of get acclimated to it and now I’ve kind of got a grasp for it so things are just moving way faster. I’m a faster player. I feel like I’m a better player now.”
Lee is enjoying seeing how much his cousin has progressed and can’t wait to see him do so in the fall.
“It will be real nice seeing him out there playing on defense and I’m on offense. We’ll be able to watch each other, cheer each other on,” said the starting left tackle, who actually practiced against Campbell as a defensive lineman at Ponchatoula H.S. “It’s just a great feeling to see a family member doing what he’s supposed to be doing and knowing that we’re from the same place, basically the same blood.
“It’s definitely great seeing that he’s happy because that happiness on the field is actually carrying off the field and he’s doing his thing in the classroom. I’m proud of him.”
With his experience, Campbell is counting on the young secondary making Georgia Tech proud.
“The experience from last year definitely helped a lot,” he said. “When you’re out there taking game reps, it’s way different. It kind of slows down the more you’re out there, so that kind of transferred to the spring. [Fifth-year senior Lamont Simmons and third-year sophomore Ajani Kerr] have worked together before, so it’s kind of a trust aspect. We trust each other when we’re out there. It helps things work better.”