There must have been times over the past four-plus years that Jason Campbell wondered how he could go on. He worked so hard as a football player and as a student, and few outside of his coaches and teammates seemed to care. Each spring brought a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Each fall brought withering criticism and even boos from his own school's fans.
Campbell pressed on, confident in his ability, knowing most who criticized didn't know what they were talking about and believing that better days were surely ahead.
And now, more than four years after he left his home in Taylorsville, Miss., and moved to Auburn with great hope for the future, Campbell is getting his due.
I have witnessed outstanding performances by some of the great quarterbacks in SEC history--Pat Sullivan, Ken Stabler, the Mannings, Dameyune Craig, Danny Weurffel and Joe Namath, to name a few. I have never seen a quarterback have a better game than Campbell did in Auburn's 38-20 victory over Arkansas last Saturday.
You've seen the numbers by now--17-of-19 passing for 297 yards and three touchdowns. His coaches say he was just as good at getting his team into the right play at the line of scrimmage as he was at completing passes. He leads the Southeastern Conference and is fourth nationally in passing efficiency. More than any other single player, he is the reason Auburn is 7-0 and ranked No. 3 in the Associated Press poll.
When you consider that Campbell is running an offense he knew nothing about just eight months ago, what he has done this season is nothing short of remarkable. Arkansas' Matt Jones is a unique and dangerous quarterback, but he wasn't the best quarterback on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium last Saturday. If Campbell keeps going, keeps getting better every week, Georgia's David Greene won't be the best quarterback on the field on Nov. 13, either.
If the All-SEC team were chosen today, Campbell would deserve to be the quarterback. He would certainly deserve consideration for All-America.
I have to wonder how those classless ones who booed from the safety and anonymity of the stands feel today. I have to wonder if those who called for redshirt freshman Brandon Cox to move ahead of Campbell realize just what a silly idea that was.
Campbell laughs it off. No one, he says, has ever had the courage to criticize him to his face. Most of those who criticize, he says, don't understand the game and don't have a clue what it takes to be a college football player. He says he understood when he signed that SEC quarterbacks take most of the blame when things go badly. He says the only times he was really disturbed were when his mother was hurt by hearing nastiness aimed at her son.
All the hard times will be worth it if Auburn finishes this season of dreams. Campbell is on the cusp of something very special.
Auburn will beat Kentucky on Saturday. Barring something unusual happening, it will win at Ole Miss the following Saturday. Chances are winning those two games will lock up the West Division championship even before games against Georgia at Jordan-Hare Stadium and Alabama at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
But the Tigers have more at stake now than winning the West or even winning the SEC championship. If they can win out in the regular season and win the SEC Championship Game, they could play for the biggest prize in the college game in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 4.
Obviously, there are factors beyond Auburn's control, mainly what happens to Southern California, Oklahoma and Miami. But those things usually take care of themselves. If the Tigers go 12-0, my bet is they will be play for the championship.
Will it happen? It's too early to say. But a young man who refused to give in to adversity, who stood taller and stronger than those who slung arrows, is one big reason that it could.