He was tops among all draft-eligible players in testing when offensive linemen were asked to run the 40, perform the three-cone drill, execute the short shuttle, tops when vertical and broad jump were measured.
And yet, Jamal Campbell wouldn’t get drafted until the 22nd-overall pick when the Argonauts grabbed the Toronto native with their third-round pick.
Big, strong, athletic, Campbell has so much potential, so much learning, so enticing that no one really knows how high the ceiling is for this behemoth, a 6-foot-7, 300-pounder who played football at York.
Campbell attended C.W. Jefferys in an area that far too often gets stigmatize when random acts of violence breaks out.
There was no football program at the school until the Argos’ Huddle Up initiative came calling.
Jason Colero isn’t a household name among football fans, but every player who has suited up for the team knows the man once referred to as Sui.
When the Argos ran a mini-camp for kids just before the start of the team’s main camp, Campbell thanked Colero for giving Campbell a chance to pursue football.
“He’s phenomenally talented, unbelievably athletic, great size, great motor, he’s nasty,” said head coach Scott Milanovich of Campbell. “He’s got a long way to go, but I’d be surprised if that kid doesn’t become a player.”
Whatever awaits Campbell, he’ll always remember that day when the Argos introduced him to the game.
“I was in Grade 11,” said Campbell, a gentle giant. “Up until that point, I played basketball my whole life.”
The Argos want to bring football to areas not exposed to the sport, especially to inner city kids.
At Jefferys, Campbell remembers a pep rally that would get organized.
“They (Argos) said they wanted to bring football to inner city schools and they wanted to start at C.W. Jefferys in Jane and Finch and that’s what they did,” said Campbell. “It was the greatest opportunity. And without it, I wouldn’t be here and it feels even better to be drafted by the Toronto Argonauts.”
Campbell story is in its infancy stage, but it’s a story worth following if he’s able to realize all this potential so many envision.
His lack of experience is why questions abound, but Campbell works hard and he’s soaking everything up at camp.
He’s also lucky to have fellow York grads such as veterans Ricky Foley and Andre Durie to bounce ideas off and fellow rookie Chris Kolankowski, a fellow O-lineman.
When he was exposed to football, Campbell admits he struggled.
“Anything I do, I want to be the best at it,” he added. “Once I told myself that I’m going with it, that’s what happened.”
Campbell was a 220-pound defensive end when he first strapped on the shoulder pads.
“I’m now 300 pounds. It’s been a long journey.”
In reality, it’s just the beginning with a lot to learn, painful times that will test Campbell and ultimately make him better, both as a player and as a person.
At York, Campbell played at defensive end before making the switch two years ago.
When he looks around at camp, Campbell sees some of the game’s elite offensive linemen in Josh Bourke, Chris Van Zeyl, players Campbell draws knowledge and inspiration.
“I’m blessed and so grateful,” said Campbell. “Anything I can learn from these guys and bring to my game, it can only help me.”
The York connection makes this experience even more surreal.
“They embraced me. I’ve been leaning on these guys 100% and they’ve been very helpful throughout the process, helping me understand my place on the team, what I need to do to make the team.”
Rookies aren’t expected to crack the lineup and Campbell is taking it one day at a time.
“The goal is to get better each day,” he added. “That’s it. I just want to be an asset to this team in any way I can. Whatever that means, that’s what I want to do.”
Foley never minces words and he was blunt when asked to assess Campbell.
“Ridiculously talented,” said the veteran rush end. “Stupid athletic. Right now, he’s the most athletic in the league. He really is.”
In football, athleticism is measured in recovery.
“Secondary moves,” said Foley when describing recovery on the line. “If you get beat on a spin move, you’ve overplayed the outside rush. You have to now recover and get back in front of your guy and spin. Very few guys can do that.”
For Campbell, it’s about learning technique.
“He’s got everything,” added Foley. “He just has to get dog in him. He needs to get his confidence and dog in him. He needs to get some Josh Bourke in him, some Chris Van Zeyl in him, some of that (bleep bleep) in him. He gets that and he’ll be on his way for sure.”
As York alumni, Foley and Durie commit part of their time for off-season events at the university.
“Super gracious kids,” said Foley of Campbell and Kolankowski. “We’re definitely going to take them under our wing as much as I can but I can’t be too good because I’ve got to go up against them.
“I’m definitely rooting for him and those guys more because it’s good for our program, it’s good for York. I’m just trying to prepare the guy mentally because once we start games, players will be going for his head. You need to get more of a killer instinct.”