Up Close: Curtis Campbell

CHESAPEAKE, Va. --- Through assistant coach Ken Browning's well-established recruiting connections within the Tidewater Area, North Carolina was able to uncover a true diamond in the rough in Curtis Campbell and eventually landed a verbal commitment from the 6-foot-2, 205-pound athlete.

"In my personal opinion, the schools that do their homework and recruit this area are the ones that are going to get our [area's] athletes," said Martin Asprey, Campbell's head coach at Chesapeake (Va.) Grassfield. "When you realize that we took basically three dominant high schools – Deep Creek, Great Bridge, Hickory – and brought it to one [creating Grassfield]; you don't have to be rocket scientist to figure out that has got to be some type of talent."

When Grassfield opened last year, Campbell was among the students moved out of Deep Creek.

"I was kind of iffy," Campbell said regarding the transfer. "Over there at Deep Creek, I had already established what I was going to do… I didn't feel like starting over, but as [Grassfield] got built and I saw the facilities – especially the track facility – it made me want to come over and start something new."

At Deep Creek, Campbell had been on varsity since his freshman year. Projected to see an increased role as a junior, the Deep Creek coaches weren't happy to see him leave. However, that didn't stop them from recommending him to visiting recruiters last spring.

Starting fresh at Grassfield, Campbell spent the preseason working out at running back and for the first time at safety.

Despite his inexperience on defense, Campbell eventually emerged as a starter at safety.

"I played free [safety] here and there, but usually I was rolling down [as a strong safety] just to use my size, speed, and my tackling ability," Campbell said.

Campbell also earned a spot in Grassfield's overcrowded running back stable.

While in preparation for their fourth opponent, Campbell was injured in practice.

"He was running a little route for us – we had designed a little play for us to run a little route underneath the linebackers, we knew the linebackers were blitzing – and he just got hit in the back and got a hip pointer," Asprey said.

No one wants to get injured, but to sustain an injury in practice made the pill a harder one to swallow.

"I was really mad," Campbell said. "I was heated the whole day, because it was just unnecessary roughness. With the new program, you had people trying to establish themselves on the team; everyone is going for a spot. I guess he just wanted to make a name for himself and take me out… It was tough."

Campbell would miss five games total.

"It was one of those things where one week he felt good, one week he felt bad," Asprey said. "We thought we had him back in week seven and then all the sudden the hip pointer flared up again."

Although he returned to the lineup in week nine, Campbell wasn't playing close to 100-percent until the following week.

In his limited action -- five games -- Campbell recorded an interception and returned a kickoff back for a touchdown.

Playing at a new school and missing nearly half of his junior season, Campbell didn't expect to be recruited for football.

"I really thought I would be recruited more for track and field," Campbell said.

Campbell runs the 200- and 400-meter in track. His personal best times are 21.4 seconds and 47.2 seconds in the 200 and 400, respectfully.

Indeed, Campbell was recruited by Georgetown, Georgia, and South Carolina for track.

However, during the Evaluation Period, several schools noticed Campbell's football ability and potential.

Furthermore, at the Southeastern District Combine, Campbell ran an electronically timed 4.47-second 40-yard dash, which further raised his stock.

Boston College, UConn, Marshall, UNC, NC State, Syracuse, and Virginia Tech all began to recruit him for football. When Marshall stopped by, they verbally offered Campbell, as did UConn, which became the first school to put an offer in writing.

UNC has been in the picture since Campbell arrived at Grassfield. Former Tar Heel Donti Coates coaches at Grassfield and the Grassfield team attended UNC's three-day team camp during the summer of '07.

However, the Tar Heel staff didn't truly begin to recruit Campbell until Browning visited Grassfield during the Evaluation Period.

"Pretty much [Browning said] ‘We liked what we saw on film,'" Asprey said. "He said ‘Coach, he definitely has the size and the speed we're looking for. We'd liked to talk to him some more.'"

From that point forward, Campbell -- and more so his father -- kept in contact with Browning.

"[Our conversations] were more like ‘When can we get you down here and look at everything?'" Campbell said.

Through his conversations with UNC, Campbell got the feeling a UNC offer was imminent.

"They said they were recruiting other safeties, but they said that I was up there," Campbell said. "They said they wanted to offer me, but they said they wanted to get me down there for a visit to meet Butch Davis. I wasn't sure [if they were going to offer me], but I had a good feeling that they were."

In addition to the camp, Campbell had attended track meets held in Chapel Hill. But his parents had yet to see the campus.

"My dad is a teacher, so he really wanted to get down there and see the academic side to see what was going on with that," Campbell said. "It's a good academic school, but he just wanted to see first hand what it was like."

Campbell and his father made the trip to UNC in July while the seven-on-seven passing league was going on.

Before leaving campus, Campbell and his father met with Davis in his office. During the meeting, Davis handed Campbell the official scholarship letter.

"He preached about the program and just everything you would want a head coach to say to recruit someone," Campbell said. "He just made it seem not like a business choice, but something to really help me out in life. Instead of just selling me on football, he brought up academics and just a better lifestyle and making me a better person."

Campbell's mind was spinning.

"It all happened really fast," Campbell said. "After only a few months of not expecting very much, and then offers being thrown at me for a sport I've only been doing since my freshman year – I didn't play in middle school at all. I didn't really think I'd get recruited for this. It was surprising, but I was glad."

Following the visit, the only item that seemed certain was that UNC was Campbell's leader.

"I liked the proximity from home – and my family is going to be moving down there after I graduate – and I've always wanted to go to UNC," Campbell said. "When I was growing up, my favorite sport was basketball so I always loved UNC… So I always wanted to go there."

Campbell, who camped at Virginia Tech prior to visiting UNC, considered visiting other interested schools, but his AAU track schedule didn't cooperate. Time quickly ran out for Campbell, who wanted to make a commitment before preseason football practice began to alleviate the stress from the recruiting process.

Campbell's feelings towards UNC matched with his self-imposed deadline led to him verbally committing to the Tar Heels.

"[My commitment] is pretty solid," Campbell said. "I still get interest letters coming in, like the emails. But I don't think I'm going to change my mind."

This coming weekend, Campbell will visit UNC for what he says is an official visit.

(Check back tomorrow for Inside Carolina's "Practice Tour" report on Campbell.)

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