Tommie Campbell’s past is filled with accolades and honors. It also is riddled with lost chances.
He was an all-state selection and a state champion in the 100-meter dash while at the same high school (Aliquippa, Pa.) that produced three-time Super Bowl champion cornerback Ty Law and current New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis. Campbell played at the University of Pittsburgh with Revis and was a starter at linebacker his sophomore year.
Maybe most impressively, just three months before the NFL Draft — which concluded on Saturday — he was clocked at 4.31 and 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash.
All of that and he was the fourth-to-last pick in the draft. After the Tennessee Titans selected him 251st overall in the seventh round on Saturday, Titans Vice President of Player Personnel Ruston Webster called Campbell a “flyer” — someone they were willing to take a chance on.
Because, since 2005, Campbell has played at three different colleges and was away from football for two years before wrapping up his career last fall at Division II California (Pa.).
“I wasn’t a bad person,” Campbell said. “I just didn’t take care of my off-the-field responsibilities of being a student-athlete.”
After playing in all 12 games at cornerback in 2005 at Pittsburgh, Campbell was moved to outside linebacker and started there. But failure to maintain his grades cut his time short at Pitt and he transferred to Division II Edinboro. More academic trouble doomed him and he played just one season.
Campbell left school — and football — for a while and for six months held a full-time job as a janitor at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“I didn’t expect to play football ever again at one point,” Campbell said. “I got a call from Cal. I went up there and did everything they asked me to.”
During the 2010 season, the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Campbell played in all 12 games at cornerback but started just four due to a lingering hamstring injury he sustained over the summer. Still, he had 29 tackles (17 solo) and two interceptions as he helped the Vulcans reach the playoffs.
He was selected to two all-star games, including the Division II’s Cactus Bowl, where he drew some attention with his times in the 40-yard dash. His build also is attractive from a versatility standpoint. The Titans might use him at safety as well.
“When you get here so late in the seventh [round], corners with that kind of size and speed they are hard to find,” Webster said. “Without any free agency [because of the lockout], it was the time to take a flyer. We had a couple guys we were talking about but we felt comfortable taking that flyer. Our scout [Richard Shelton] had a conviction on him and spent some time with him and talked to him. That is what you do late in the rounds — you listen to your scouts.
“… The sense we got is that [Campbell] is hungry. That was one of the things that attracted us to him is that he is hungry. He’s going to get his chance. With that kind of speed and ability, if he does what he is supposed to do then he has a chance to play in the National Football League. He’s going to get his opportunity.”
For Campbell, this could be his only shot at the NFL. He wasn’t invited to work out at the NFL scouting combine and received interest from a couple other teams but he knew his chances of being drafted were slim, largely because of his past.
“I was very worried about that,” Campbell said. “I knew going in after this season was over that questions would be about my character. ... I’m just happy to be going [to the Titans]. I’m very happy to be going.”
Adding to Campbell’s situation is that he has two children — ages 1 and 5.
“I’ve got two kids I’ve got to feed,” he said. “My 5-year-old looks up to me. So there is a lot of pressure [to succeed]. So everything I do he emulates.”
If Campbell does make it through the summer and earns a spot on the team, October could be an emotional month. If the lockout ends, the Titans are scheduled to play a road game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 9.
That would mean Campbell would be flying back into Pittsburgh International Airport, where just more than a year ago he was cleaning restrooms.
“It is just going to remind me to keep working hard, man,” Campbell said. “It is going to remind, like ‘You can go back to cleaning toilets or you can play football.’”