Campen ‘fits the bill'

James Campen had to start at the ground level and work his way up as a football player – in college and in the National Football League. As he re-enters the NFL today with the Green Bay Packers, he's back to the ground floor, only this time as a coach.<p>

Fortunately for Campen, he still has the work ethic and attitude that helped him go from rookie free agent to a starter in the pros.

"I think he's going to be a great fit for us," said Packers coach and general manager Mike Sherman. "He's a guy, in my research, who has been a grinder so to speak. He stays as late as he has to, or comes as early as he has to to get the job done."

Campen, 39, will assist veteran offensive line coach Larry Beightol this season with the Packers. He will work primarily with the team's interior linemen. Campen started 42 of 48 Green Bay games from 1990-92, but he climbed a mountain of adversity before becoming a starter in the NFL, and it goes all the way back to when he finished up at Ponderosa High School in Shingle Springs, Calif.

Campen won back-to-back California state titles (202 pounds) while at Ponderosa, but turned down scholarship offers from wrestling powerhouses Iowa and Iowa State to focus on football. That meant he had to begin his post-high school career at Sacramento City College. Campen bulked up to about 250 pounds upon arriving at Tulane in 1984 and started two seasons for the Green Wave.

Intent on making an NFL team, Campen talked his way into a free agent tryout with the New Orleans Saints in 1986 but was cut in training camp. He re-signed again with the Saints in 1987 and made the team but was waived in 1988. He was signed again by the Saints a week later, but left for Green Bay as a Plan B free agent in 1989.

Campen eventually began starting at center for the Packers in 1990. A fan favorite because of his aggressive style of play and enthusiasm, Campen's career came to an end four games into the 1993 season when he suffered a torn hamstring.

"It there's one word I hate, a workd I can't stand, it's overachiever," said told the Green Bay Press-Gazette in July of 1990. "People tab me quite a bit as being an overachiever. I don't think I've maxed out at all."

His former coaches and Sherman realize Campen's potential as a football coach. Campen returned to Ponderosa as an assistant coach in the mid-1990s, then was the school's head coach the last five seasons, and compiled a 29-20-1 overall record, competing in the Sierra Valley Conference, one of the most competitive high school leagues in the state.

Campen had an opportunity to join the Philadelphia Eagles as an assistant coach in 1995, but turned down a contract offer from Ray Rhodes. At the time his wife, Charlene, whom he met while at Tulane, was pregnant and Campen said the timing wasn't right. Now as his children have grown, and he has grown as a coach, he feels he can help groom linemen for the rigors of the NFL. "The fact that I've been coaching for the past nine years at the high school level enabled me to really understand and be able to apply coaching techniques to players," Campen said. "Quite honestly, I didn't feel like I was able to contribute (with Philadelphia). At the time, my wife was pregnant with our second child. When you go back and look at it and assume you know quite a bit being a former player in the National Football League, but you really don't. I just felt that I needed to hone my skills coaching hands-on. That's when I came to the conclusion this year that I was ready for the change and decided it was time to pursue some NFL coaching opportunities as a coach in a difference capacity."

Campen resigned from his head coaching position at Ponderosa High School last December. He then began seeking opportunities as an assistant with a handful of NFL teams, but said he put the Packers at the top of his list. Sherman invited Campen as a sideline guest to three games last season – at Oakland on Dec. 22, and both of the team's playoff games. Campen said he watched all of Green Bay's other games on television from his home in California.

While some may view Campen's lack of experience as a coach at the collegiate level as a detriment to the Packers, he sees it differently.

"I think I may have some advantages other than people who have coached in the college ranks from the simple standpoint that everything that I will get and learn in the next months and years to come will be the way that the Packers want things done," Campen said. "Secondly, being a head coach in high school football is very demanding. A lot of people wouldn't realize that as a high school coach in football, you go work 50 hours at a job, then you have your family time, then you have 40 hours of football, so you're getting about three hours of sleep. The advantage of that is you're in charge of about 130 young men that rely on you to teach them football, everything from techniques to game plan to study habits and school habits. I think it's an advantage because I have been coaching, and my coaching has been magnified with young people."

Campen was employed as a commercial insurance specialist aside from coaching at his alma mater. A possessor of a B.A. degree in criminal justice, Campen served as a reserve deputy sheriff in New Orleans and volunteered with the Green Bay Police Dept. in a similar capacity while a Packers player.

The Campens have two daughters, Kirstie and Kaley, and make their home in Rescue, Calif. He officially began his duties in Green Bay today. "When you put it all together like he has had to do, I think that has helped him for the job that I want him to do," Sherman said. "To hire him as offensive coordinator or offensive line coach, that would be a bit different, but in the capacity that I want him to be employed, he fits the bill perfectly."

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