Will Campbell arrived at Michigan in 2009 as a much-ballyhooed 5-star defensive tackle. He was destined to become one of the all-time greats at the position which featured the likes of Glen Steele, Mark Messner, Mike Hammerstein and Curtis Greer.
But a funny thing happened during Campbell's journey to stardom. He never really panned out.
After three disappointing seasons, the 6'5”, 322-lb senior has registered just 19 tackles, two sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss.
Despite his questionable play—when he actually made it off the bench—the coaches continued to be intrigued by his potential.
After an indifferent freshman year, then-coach Rich Rodriguez thought he might have found the answer. “He may be better suited to play (offensive) guard,” Rodriguez told the Michigan Daily. "He's not playing much on defense.
"Part of it is because (starting defensive tackles) Mike Martin and Adam Patterson are pretty good, stronger, and they're pretty active guys," Rodriguez added. "Will is working harder, getting himself in shape. He's got to get better technique-wise, getting off blocks and those kind of things."
Despite the move over to offense, Campbell continued to struggle. So when Brady Hoke took over in 2011, Campbell was moved back to defense. In fact, Hoke anticipated giving Campbell the starting nose tackle job before the season. That would have allowed Mike Martin to move over to end, where he could better use his athleticism.
The experiment never worked. In fact, Martin himself saw a flaw in Campbell's game. “I wouldn’t say he was lackadaisical, but you sort of get in that comfort zone when maybe you won’t get in all the time during the game,” Martin told annarbor.com. “Whatever it is, if you’re not pushed to raise your level of play, you’re sort of going to settle, I guess.”
A quick look at the 2012 depth chart shows Campbell again being penciled into the starting nose tackle slot. This time, he's impressed the coaches. "He’s one of the hardest working guys we have had this summer, said defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. "We are excited about what he’s doing."
"Will (Campbell) has to be (a leader on the defensive line)," Mattison said in a recent interview with the Big Ten Network's Tom Dienhart. "If you don’t have someone right in the middle of that defensive line and ‘backers and safeties, then you are gonna have a problem. Will has done everything we ask him to do to try to prepare to be the best."
Except, of course, getting arrested in April.
In a moment unbecoming of a rising senior, Campbell was booked for sliding across an automobile while intoxicated, and for purchasing alcohol underage. He'll be in court later this month for sentencing, but isn't expected to get any jail time. He is expected, however, to pay some $2,100 for the car's damages.
While it appears Hoke and Mattison are doing their best to overlook this unfortunate episode, you can't help but wonder if Campbell's grasp on the starting position has evaporated.
While there are roster players like Quinton Washington and Richard Ash ready to jump in, many look to another ballyhooed recruit to eventually take over.
He's Ondre Pipkins. A 6'3'', 330-pounder who many believe has the ability to play right away.
"When he played in that Army all-star game, he played like we evaluated him," Mattison told scout.com. "He did the things we thought he could do. That allowed a lot of other people to see him also."
Scout, which rated Pipkins as the No. 7 tackle nationally, is also impressed. “He plays with a good motor,” said Scout recruiting expert Greg Powers. ”His job is to draw the double and triple team, but he is very disruptive in the backfield. Throw in the fact that he is a good tackler and can move and you can see why he held offers from all over.”