Christian Campbell sunk to his knees as Matt Boermeester sprinted down the field dabbing in celebration.
While the Nittany Lions no doubt suffered a stinging loss to USC in the Rose Bowl, that moment can serve as motivation for Campbell heading into his senior season. He’ll finally get his chance to start full-time Saturday versus Akron.
Defensive coordinator Brent Pry has plenty of options with the fluid 6-foot-1 Campbell lining up at boundary corner opposite Grant Haley.
“I’ve always been very excited about Christian Campbell, another guy with great length who is explosive and can run,” Pry said. “He’s the healthiest he’s ever been in his career here at Penn State.”
Campbell, who’s logged three career starts, is one of a staggering 12 three-star talents from the 2014 recruiting class to make a major impact for the Nittany Lions. Following John Reid’s likely season-ending knee injury, Campbell took on an even larger role this summer after serving as Penn State’s “fifth starter” the year before.
The Phenix City, Ala., native said play recognition, footwork, and watching extensive film is essential to being a complete player his teammates can trust on Saturdays. Campbell hopes to haul in his third interception early this fall. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s the Big Ten’s top returning corner in terms of allowing the fewest yards per snap in coverage.
“I prepared like a starter before, so when they told me I was up, I was ready for the moment.”
It looks like Reid will miss Penn State’s Big Ten title defense, but the data sciences major who interned at Intel this summer has already assumed “player-coach” duties in the cornerback room.
“John Reid is really smart. With him seeing from the outside, he can let us know a couple tips of what we need to do, what to look for,” Campbell said.
Campbell knows what it feels like to miss extended action, having been relegated to the sidelines for the final five games of 2015 due to a nagging injury of his own.
“It made me a better person and a stronger person in the sense of mindset,” Campbell said. “Sometimes you may have a nick here or there and you may think the whole world is over with. It’s only for you to get better, stronger, and faster.”
After Wednesday’s practice last week, Campbell said he looks up to shutdown NFL stars like Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, and A.J. Bouye. Here in State College, he’s taken freshmen Lamont Wade and Tariq Castro-Fields under his wing.
Campbell said Wade has gotten comfortable at Penn State’s “Star” position — essentially a hybrid Nickel in Pry’s 4-2-5 sub-package. Castro-Fields, on the other hand, was listed as Campbell’s primary backup on the first depth chart.
James Franklin has praised the young Upper Marlboro, Md., product often over the last few weeks, and Tuesday’s announcement means he’s got the green light to play as a true freshman. Castro-Fields routinely seeks out his veteran teammate and training camp roommate for advice and extra iPad film sessions.
“They know they can trust me,” Campbell said. “Trust is a big thing and they had trust in me.”