By his own admission, Tainu Cousins didn’t know a lot about Toronto Argonaut Jamal Campbell.
But all that changed after the offensive lineman visited his former middle school, Grey Cup in tow, to speak of hard work, believing in yourself and working hard toward goals.
“After what he said, it really touched me,” the Grade 8 Elia Middle School student said. “He was really inspiring. He shows where I can be.”
The 380 students were abuzz with excitement as the six-foot-six, 325-pound Campbell made his way into the Sentinel Road school’s cafeteria Tuesday, Jan. 23, smiling broadly as he slowly carried the Grey Cup to the stage. After placing it down, the 24-year-old, who grew up at Jane Street and Finch Avenue and continues to call the area home, told the crowd it felt “great” to be back at his old stomping grounds.
Wearing his number 67 jersey, he spoke of working hard at whatever sparks passion, and to respect parents and teachers as “they are the tools to get you where you need to go.”
Though he was drafted 22nd overall by the Argos in 2016, Campbell originally had dreams of a basketball career with the NBA. But when the Argos established a community program, at his old high school C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute when he was 16 and in Grade 11, he refocussed his sights on a professional football career.
That switch paid off as the Argos beat the Calgary Stampeders 27-24 to claim the championship last November.
Campbell answered numerous questions from the eager students, including if he’s ever suffered a concussion (never), who inspires him the most (his mom), who his favourite football player is (Jason Pierre-Paul of the New York Giants), and what his favourite Jordan shoes are (11).
“But use that $160, $200 to go start a business,” he said. “Jordans are not the most important thing.”
Campbell, who won Metroland Media Toronto’s Urban Hero Award in the People’s Choice Sports category last year, which celebrates community “heroes,” also spoke of surrounding yourself with positive people, believing in yourself when no one else will, and speaking up when witnessing bullying.
“It’s easy not to be part of (bullying),” said the York University alumnus, who studied sociology. “Everyone has their own story. (For bullies) it’s never too late to change. If you’re being bullied, reach out to someone.”
Gabriella Dumitru, who taught Campbell in Grade 7 and was acknowledged by the footballer, remembered her former pupil as a “nice, good kid.”
“It’s a proud moment for teachers when their students are successful and motivate others,” she said.
Elia’s principal, Nikki Silvera, who was sporting an Argos T-shirt, said she was humbled by Campbell’s visit back to his middle school which includes grades 6 to 8.
“It’s amazing to see he remained committed to his community and be that type of role model,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity he came back and let the kids know he walked these hallways.”
Along with Elia, Campbell also planned to bring the Cup Tuesday to C.W. Jefferys, York University, the Jane and Finch intersection, and 2850 Jane St.