If you read Heiko's 3/22 presser transcript you probably guessed already what the MSM angle would be for this spring. If you missed it, here's the highlights:
"Hello everyone. It's Spring. Spring is FOOTBALL TOUGHNESS time. [Points off-screen]. Toughness and finishing. I'll now take questions that are not about Will Campbell."
Can you name some positions that you feel need to be addressed after last year's departures?
"Well you may not realize this but we lost three guys on the interior of the defensive line so I'm really looking for someone to step up th…say, this isn't a question about Will is it?"
Do you feel like you need guys on the line to be team leaders?
"Oh yes absolutely. Seniors, guys on the line, seniors on the line mostly. You, the Asian kid in the back!"
What do you like specifically about Elliott Mealer at the left guard spot?
[everyone grabs coffee while Hoke answers a few uninteresting questions about condo-blocking or whatever F you]
Have you seen consistency out of Will Campbell so far?
"I'd say that he has been consistent when he's consistent, but that hasn't been consistent. What we're looking for from all of our players is that they're always consistent, and not just consistent some of the time. He is mostly consistent, but when he gets inconsistent, that's when there's consistency issues. When there's inconsistency we have consequences, which we call 'consistequences,' and he has been very consistent at winning consistequences."
Last year you coached the interior defensive line. Does that mean you're going to be coaching W…
When a player is perceived as a blue chip out of high school is there a…
How long does Will Campbell have to prove himself?
Well after four years of playing they lose their eligibility so, hey where's everybody going?
Eric Lacy, the Detroit News:
Ann Arbor — Time is running out for Michigan senior defensive tackle William Campbell to prove he deserves to be a starter.
Michael Rothstein, ESPN Wolverine Nation:
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- He's down to his last chance. For three seasons, defensive tackle Will Campbell has oozed potential and possibility. From the acclaim he came in with from Cass Tech in Detroit to his massive size, everything about him appeared to be can't miss.
Nick Baumgardner, Ann Arbor.com:
For Will Campbell, the sand in the hourglass of his Michigan football career is starting to thin out.
There were other angles. Kevin Minor of Rivals.com eschewed the tick-tock approach to stretch "he lost 35 pounds" into 800 kind words from his buddies. The AP reporter led with both O and D lines and didn't get to BWC's countdown to oblivion until the 7th graph. Mark Snyder went with the tight ends because #ManballIsEverything. Drew Sharp almost assuredly said something that made Drew Sharp sound dumb.
When I interviewed Ryan Van Bergen a couple months ago, we talked a bit about Will. The gist of the discussion revolved around Will knowing his role, knowing what's needed of him and that it's simply a matter of execution. Ryan was clear in saying that near the end of the season, Campbell started to realize how important he was to Team 133's future. Apparently, Will has gotten the message, as the coaching staff is impressed with his developing leadership skills this off-season.
The Viking Age
What you are witnessing here is a going on six-year Norse saga as told by contemporaneous headlines: "Gone Viking: Sluggish Scandinavian Economy Forces Soldiers to Seek Fortunes on High Seas." Told as narrative it's so much better:
The legend began when he committed to Lloyd Carr in the summer before his junior year of high school. Pre-Hoke a high-profile kid pulling the trigger more than a year out sounded weirder; you're going to have to trust me on this. Four Nick Sheridan quarters into 2008 he then decommitted so he could give everyone a heart attack at the Army Bowl. His freshman year he enrolled early with expectations of replacing the graduating Taylor. Then Will hit a wall, apparently because his all-important pad level was too high to penetrate it. My Sparty little brother began reminding me that NCAA'10 Will Campbell was an 85 and Greg Jones a 74, this being supreme evidence that MSU can justify being the trolls of college football for having to put up with such perpetual indignities. Barwis set about rebuilding him as Barwis does, and in retrospect that freshman year should have been a redshirt, but you can't really redshirt a 5-star DT when you just graduated most of your defensive line, right?
The saga's nadir was reached his sophomore season. Enough folks were ready winding up to pitch the b-word by then that MGoUser West Texas Blue penned a "don't use the b-word" diary showing his progress was about on par with most of his classmates except (sigh) DeQuinta Jones. When things didn't go so well that year, the warrior threw down his sword/hammer/axe/polearm/seax/whatever F you to serve as a backup guard, a less prestigious post given to Vikings who cannot strike low enough to defeat a shield wall. Will got up to 350 pounds and served a quote about being lazy that fit the narrative.
But with the rise of the new king, Brady Hokesson the Pointer, and thanks to many battle losses among the hirdfense, Will was called back to the D-line. This is the rising action where the warrior is trained by three of the Great Wise Men of Nose Tackledom and we get a montage of weight running, coaches yelling "STAY LOW!" and "USE YOUR HANDS!", and much punishment of sleds. This culminates in a flash of +5 in the UFR for Notre Name, followed by the first reveal of god-like powers against Illinois sometime between before and after the Illini Zooked out for the year. Now it approaches its climax. Post-montage he is 315 and a leader and we still have no idea if he'll be good enough to give Michigan a shot at a great defense this year. Will he? Won't he? And the girl?
Guess how much time is left?
I don't know, dude, 13 games or something. Let me watch! And for the record pointing out that there's 1/4 left to go right when the film's getting good is just as annoying as it sounds like.
Why the fascination?
The obvious answer is as obvious as a press conference angle. Here's a list of every Michigan player recruited from 2008 to 2011 who was was a 5-star to at least two major sites (Rivals, Scout, ESPN):
|William Campbell||DT||6'5"||317||6.1 (5 stars), 5th DT||5 stars,
|79 (high 3 stars),
That is the list. Gardner, Turner and Cissoko got the 5th from Scout and nobody else.
My own obsession on Will led me to that study of body shapes earlier this year, and also led me to ask various people who know football better than I do what's so hard about learning pad level. Their answers were between "it's actually really hard," and "YOU try learning to do a thing that your brain is sure is going to break your spine."
Rivals slotted Big Will just under fellow DT and similarly sized Chris Davenport of LSU. Davenport is now going into his redshirt junior season as LSU's top backup at OT, unless he's passed this spring by sophomore Evan Washington. There's nothing particularly remarkable about Davenport in circles who follow guys in Davenport's position carefully. They have plenty of 5-stars waiting their turns, and even more dudes who don't make an impact until their fourth year on campus. That is to say they only want Davenport taken outside and disemboweled for not living up to his hype about as often as they want him to replace the guy ahead of him (second-team All-SEC junior Chris Faulk); for the SEC this is considered a placid reaction.
Michigan is hardly a place that has never seen a blue chip. We have also seen blue chips morph into spectacular busts, and tables that explain this to us by showing things like 50%+ of 5-stars get drafted by the NFL while dramatically smaller %s of lesser star ratings do so, and can remind ourselves that once in awhile everyone who recruits 5-stars ends up with one from the half that don't become superstars. This is binary and human brains are good at binary.
What we're not quite as used to, what the old narratives don't really know how to address, is the blue chip who's kind of just a really good teammate who's working hard and has some talent and some technique issues that take a long time to work out but is slowly becoming the kind of guy who's a consistent contributor. If all you saw was the ESPN rating you'd be fine with this.
Eventually the Mathlete is going to come out with a PAN-based bell curve to replace our binary "made it or didn't" tables but when he does I bet you it looks like this:
The "inconsistency" and "…when he chooses to use them" and "out of shape" quotes that have escaped at times fit a narrative we do know: the loatheable, self-absorbed pre-star who wastes his God-given talents enjoying the benefits of them. But that is not at all Will Campbell. Those who interview him find him jovial, if a little shy. There's no hint of academic issues (he's on track to graduate in four years). The inconsistency isn't from lack of willpower (ha!) but the fact that a 6'5" guy needs to do worse things to his spine than a guy who's 6'3" in order to "get low." After essentially trolling recruiting followers he hasn't to my knowledge so much as registered a femto-ego on college football's touchy-ass vanity sensors. This means nothing except, no, it does: he loses rap battles to guys from Whitehall, Michigan:
More than anything he's proof that completely normal college guy brains exist in pretty much every kind of body, including incredibly athletic 6'5" 350-pound ones. And that normal guy brains are wired much more strongly that we credit them to not get spinal injuries.
When pressed with "when will we get our Norse god of nose guards" questions the coaching staff now answers with "he's a leader who leads defensive line meetings and sets up extra film sessions." Again, you can read too much. He's the senior and doing the things the seniors do, and while he should get credit for that it's not like this is at all out of character for normal likeable college guy.
Does the recruiting hype still mean anything? Yeah, kinda, since if you read his recruiting profile it still has him pretty dead to rights except for the timeline. You can also peer into his UFRs from last year and find less than superstardom, but also non-air:
|WMU||Campbell||-||2||-2||This is not happening.|
|ND||Campbell||5||-||5||Please be real.|
|EMU||Campbell||3||2||1||Doesn't seem that real.|
|SD State||Campbell||4.5||1||3.5||Keep hope alive.|
|Minnesota||Campbell||4||-||4||"Get off me"|
|MSU||Campbell||-||-||-||Did not register.|
|Purdue||Campbell||2||1||1||Not getting a ton of push.|
|Iowa||Campbell||-||4.5||-4.5||Got cut to the ground and was a major culprit on two long runs.|
|Illinois||Campbell||4||-||4||Time to get excited about him again until next week.|
|Nebraska||Campbell||1||-||1||Also crushed face.|
|Ohio (NTO)||Campbell||1||-||1||Didn't register.|
Given no Martin, no RVB, and not even a Heininger (unless Brink is as Brink-y as they said he'd be last year, or Ash/Washington/Pipkins surprise), Campbell is almost assuredly going to start this year as the anchor of the defense. Whatever terrible coaching he got from missing out on a redshirt season and the switch to offense and whatever you count RR's staff as, it's hard to point to a guy in college football who's had access to higher quality position coaches than he has since last year.
Maybe he'll be a superstar. Probably he'll just be somewhere between decent and good. I feel like we've been saying that for a long time, but in the absence of real information what else is there? The trickles from insiders who know they're going get these same questions say things that suggest the talent, the arms, the strength, are all there and he's gotten better. We all want to know—I desperately want to know—but the answer for this one really just is let's wait and see.
As for help from Pipkins, Michigan's 2012 freshman 5-star DT, I wouldn't want to bank on it. He doesn't have Campbell's height—he's 6'3—but watch the video: he has some fundamentals to learn. Another saga, that.