Most Valuable Cats— No. 2: Ibraheim Campbell

Our Most Valuable Wildcats feature continues with No. 2, Ibraheim Campbell.

In the fall of my freshman year, The Daily Northwestern asked me to contribute to its "Gameday" edition.

Obviously, things have changed. I no longer write for the Daily. The Daily is no longer home to the formidable student writer presence. And around then, Ibraheim Campbell was becoming the defensive star of NU football.

Weeks earlier, he picked off Denard Robinson twice. I spoke to Brian Peters, who threw in jokes about his humility and "lovey-dovey" nature. Really, it was hard to believe: Campbell is the intense presence they needed, and he's now one of the best players on the team.

Like an excellent starting pitcher in baseball, when Campbell is on, he's on. He alternates between "good" and "excellent," owning the ability to impact games. Back in 2011, he was on the brink of greatness. Last year, he just about got there.

The defensive dynamic last season was completely different. The linebackers made more tackles, taking it upon themselves to prevent runs from reaching the "second level." Campbell–who led the team with 100 tackles in 2011–had fewer opportunities. But you get the feeling that at times, his mere impact influences the secondary. He showed excellent rapport with Jared Carpenter, and the cornerbacks put forth a much stronger effort than in the year before.

Campbell turned the corner after leaving the Indiana game with an injury. He had 14 tackles and two pass breakups in the loss to Penn State, but his performance only intensified from there. He improved his pass defense throughout, which culminated in a masterful performance at Michigan State.

In that must-win game, the safeties came to play. Jared Carpenter made several hustle plays in that breakout game. Campbell, meanwhile, earned Defensive Player of the Game honors for his 11-tackle effort with a forced fumble. He also forced the Andrew Maxwell pick-six.

I'd argue that Campbell appears ready for one of the most promising professional careers of any NU player. That might be too soon. This season, he enters to even higher expectations. If Traveon Henry lives up to his lofty billing, this could be one of the best safety tandems in the Big Ten. With improved play from Daniel Jones and continued consistency from Nick VanHoose, this might have the makings of an impressive secondary. Who expected this two years ago?

After being named an All-Big Ten honorable mention last season, you have to believe Campbell will crack the real rosters. Sometimes, you just have to watch the games and see who steps up: Almost always, Campbell leaves a major impact. Not only is Campbell one of the team's leaders. He's that good, and he's poised for even better.

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