April 7, 2011
WATCH: Interview with WR Coach D. Springer
By Skip Myslenski
NUsports.com Special Contributor
The 'Cat defensive backs are competing with each other during this spring's practice to see which of them can make the most plays. Now leading that race is a redshirt freshman safety named Ibraheim Campbell. "I'm biting at his heels, and it's ticking me off," the senior safety Brian Peters says with a big grin. "But it's fun. It's competitive."
"We've been real impressed with his progress," 'Cat defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz is saying of Campbell. "He's got excellent football awareness. He's got the height. He's got speed. He'll hit you. So we've been real impressed. We noticed some things last winter when we were doing our bowl practices. Prior to that, freshman, we try to teach them a lot. But as the season gets going, they don't get an awful lot of reps. But before the bowl, we had some specific practices where we really featured the young people and he showed us then that he had some of those things."
"When I looked at him in bowl practice," head coach Pat Fitzgerald says more succinctly, "I said, 'Gosh, why didn't I play him the whole year?' I didn't see it early enough."
"Whenever I got reps, I tried to go all out every time. So I wasn't doing anything different in the bowl practices than I had been doing all year," says Campbell himself. "It's just that I hadn't been getting a lot of reps, so it was a little different. But I always knew I could play. I just needed an opportunity."
His full name is Ibraheim Malcolm-Ramon Campbell. That given name has Biblical roots and means "Father of Many." The first of his middle names comes from Malcolm X since, he explains, "I was born in May. Malcolm X, his birthday is May 19th. And Ramon is for Ramona Africa." She was the only adult survivor back in 1985 when the Philadelphia police bombed a house filled with members of the black liberation group known as MOVE, an action that left 11 dead and led to the destruction of 65 homes from resulting fires.
He is 5-foot-11 and 195 pounds and, back at Chestnut Hill Academy outside of Philadelphia, he was a prototypical two-way star. "We thought he was really dynamic with the ball in his hands in high school," remembers Fitzgerald, and initially the 'Cats recruited him to play on offense.
"But he was adamant he wanted to play on defense," Fitzgerald goes on, "so we reevaluated his tape early and we got a chance to watch him and we were really impressed. To me it shows being unselfish, being humble, not necessarily needing to be in the spotlight as the guy who's got the ball in his hands and getting his name called on the P.A."
"We like that," says Hankwitz with a smile. "I always like it when guys want to be on the defensive side of the ball."
"I support that choice," says Peters, who is also smiling. "I'm not a big fan of offensive players."
"I like defense more just because the plays that are made are somewhat unexpected. Whereas offense, you're expected to make plays. I don't know if that makes sense to you," says Campbell himself. "And I want to go to the NFL and I think the better shot's on defense. That's another reason too."
The reason, in turn, that we introduce him now is that his performances this spring promise that you will in fact be hearing his name on the P.A. come fall. For he is one of those 'Cats who has excelled in the practices that wrap up with the spring exhibition on April 16.
"He has size, but he also has excellent speed and change of direction for a safety," Hankwitz is saying. "That's something you can't coach. You can't coach that part, and he's impressed us with that."
"He's got incredible football intelligence. He's done some things in practice that you can't coach," says Fitzgerald. "He's supposed to attack this gap, but they've got two guys over there and he just slips it. He's able to get back into that gap even though he didn't go into that gap initially, if that makes sense. We call that FBI. Really highly intelligent with his FootBall Intelligence. FBI."
"He's just a baller," says Peters. "He's a good guy. A tremendously athletic kid. He has great football instincts. He's extremely coachable. He's continued to improve each day throughout spring ball. And he makes plays, that's one thing he does. He's consistently made plays every day."
There was, back when your Scribbler was growing up in Cleveland, a defensive back for the Browns named Walter Beach and he once declared, "If you've got to think of what to do, it's too late to do it."
The player, he was saying, must simply react, yet this is not the easiest chore for one immersed for the first time in college ball. The game moves faster, as do those backs and receivers who are bigger than any he has ever before confronted, and while taking them on he must remember all those Xs and Os that are far more complex than those he mastered back in high school. "There's no substitute for experience," explains Hankwitz. "You can learn only so much watching film and on the chalkboard and from the notebook. But you've got to experience a lot of that stuff. It doesn't look the same on video and when you're out there and it's coming at you the speed that it's going to happen. At first, guys understand what they're supposed to do, but things don't always click quite quick enough. It's, 'I know what I'm supposed to do.' Then the ball gets snapped and they haven't quite done it yet."
"But he's been able to do it with some speed, and that's impressed us so far."
"I trust myself, definitely," says Campbell. "I feel I put the work in, and we put the work in, during the off-season, that I understand things well enough to trust myself. And I'm more under control in everything I do. I'm not as panicky as I was last year with things. So it's getting better."
"I don't want to overhype it. I don't want to make it seem that it's the In-N-Out Burger, the best burger that you're ever going to have and when you eat it it's just OK," Fitzgerald finally says. "He's got a long way to go. He's working really hard. He's got to improve his communication, he's a real quiet guy. But as that comes along, I think that's going to come along as his confidence comes along. He knows what he's doing. It's just got to click."
"His name will definitely be out there," is the conclusion of Brian Peters. "He's a playmaker and we're going to get our playmakers on the field one way or another."
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