Christian Campbell feels confident teaching others at this point in his career.
The Penn State senior cornerback is telling his younger teammates to come to him with any questions going into this season, using his knowledge of the defense to explain what they should be doing. He recalls dropping into the wrong coverage earlier in his career and hopes to help his fellow cornerbacks avoid the same mistakes.
Three years ago, Campbell was a freshman learning from the seniors, and he hasn’t forgotten one piece of advice.
“I used to ask the seniors like, ‘How does it feel like to be a senior?’” Campbell said. “They used to always tell me to soak it in because you don’t get this time again.”
Campbell couldn’t help but smile as he talked about how fast the past three years have gone.
The cornerback has played in 31 games for the Nittany Lions, making only four starts. But with John Reid out with a reported significant knee injury, Campbell is expected to fill that role as a full-time starter alongside Grant Haley.
Campbell started his Penn State career in 2014 after learning under coach Woodrow Lowe at Central High School in Phenix City, Ala. Lowe — a former San Diego Chargers linebacker — described Campbell as a hard-hitting safety during his high school career. The coach first worked with Campbell during his sophomore year and told the young player “don’t become discouraged and take one play at a time.”
“You got to be honest with yourself,” Lowe said. “If you can start being honest with yourself and being able to accept competition and never, ever — never, ever, ever — give up on yourself or anybody, they got a good chance of being successful in anything that they do.”
Campbell has competed and earned playing time since his freshman season. He remembers making his first start against Temple in the team’s 10th game, filling in for an injured Trevor Williams and recording the first interception of his career.
After his rookie campaign, Campbell missed the last five games of 2015 due to injury and picked up a knock against Minnesota in 2016. Campbell was making his third straight start of the season against the Gophers and missed the team’s next game against Maryland.
Campbell is now looking to make the most of his senior season, and Penn State defensive coordinator Brent Pry is excited to have the experienced, explosive athlete in his secondary.
“Christian’s one of those guys that has been through the ups and downs,” Pry said. “He’s the healthiest he’s ever been in his career here at Penn State. He’s got a lot of maturity, and he’s a great complement to Grant Haley out there.”
Penn State safety Nick Scott said Campbell has been making a lot of plays in camp, something the team expects from him. Scott noted the Nittany Lions have seen that ability in Campbell since his freshman season.
Fellow safety Marcus Allen called Campbell a “freak of nature” with vertical leap, but Allen also praised his football IQ and maturity.
“He doesn’t have to rely on us giving him the call,” Allen said. “He knows what he’s doing, and sometimes you probably don’t even have to say nothing to him because he’s already got it.”
And even as he prepares for a starting job, Campbell is sharing that knowledge with his younger teammates. As a veteran player, he feels a responsibility to help them develop.
“We’re not going to be here for long,” Campbell said. “This is our last year, so once we’re gone, the young guys got to step up.”