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Joe MacDonald Youth Football League
Ben Campbell gets noticed in Sackville, New Brunswick

Of all the recent local football talent that have ascended to the university ranks, Ben Campbell was likely not the first to come to mind when folks wondered which SDSSAA graduate might see field time in each and every game in their freshman year of post-secondary gridiron play.

And he's just fine with that.

"I've always grown up never really expecting any recognition for anything that I do," said the 19 year old graduate of Lo-Ellen Park Secondary School. "All of the recognition, or anything that comes after, is a bonus."

For as much as the hybrid defender (he likely fits in somewhere between a defensive back and a linebacker) started to pursue football, in earnest, upon his arrival to high-school, it took a lot longer for others in the community to realize his potential.

A hockey enthusiast in his youth, also dabbling in karate and wrestling, later on, Campbell spent one year in the Joe MacDonald Youth Football League before he was truly and completely smitten.

"My dad grew up in Toronto playing football and rugby and wrestling," said Campbell, the middle of three boys in the family (Alex is older, Ted is younger). "I will always remember my very first high school practice with (coach) Kevin Ellsworth. I put on the pads and it just felt right."

"The first hitting practice that we had, I was hooked. I started immediately training in grade nine, and hockey went out the window. It was football, football, football."

Having not yet experienced a real growth spurt, the now 6'3.5" 190 pound specimen toiled for a couple of years in the junior ranks, called up to the senior level for post-season play, a sign, if only to himself, of the progress that he was making.

The building blocks were beginning to be installed.

"I've always been extremely physical with my style of play," Campbell suggested. "It's always been put an effort in, hit as hard as you can, and the rest will come. I always struggled with understanding the offenses, knowing how the "X's" and "O's" work, especially not having a lot of Joe Mac experience."

"But I took time after my grade nine season to really go over our plays with the coaches, really learn that side of the ball. It really came together later on."

Yet even as he rose to prominence, cracking the second all-star team in grade 11 and moving up a notch one year later, garnering attention outside of the city proved more difficult. "I had no scouts or recruiters who talked to me coming out of grade 12 - not one," said Campbell.

Such was the belief in his own abilities that the current member of the Mount Allison University Mounties opted to return for a fifth year, adament that he would do everything in his power to give himself a shot.

"I played my Glads (Sudbury Gladiators) season and my grade 13 year and got all of my film together and sent it to every single school east of Saskatchewan," said Campbell, who was named Ricker Defensive Player of the Year in his final campaign with the Knights, in the fall of 2018.

"I sent it to everyone from the head coach to the equipment manager - that's not even a joke."

"I spent probably 15 hours researching coaches' names on both sides of the ball, just to be able to send them personalized emails, just looking for a chance to have them see my film," Campbell added, noting that while he did much of the film breakdown himself, he did receive a huge helping hand from fellow Lo-Ellen product and University of Toronto defensive lineman Brandon Maki.

Finally, a few doors were opened. With Graeme Stevens already making headway at Mount Allison, Campbell decided to follow suit. Talk of the grueling demands of a first U Sport training camp had caught the attention of the local, determined not to start his post-secondary career ill-prepared.

"That whole summer, I would train in my garage with the heater on, preparing myself for the "training camp from hell", as Graeme had explained it to me," said Campbell. "I would say that mentally, I was as prepared as I could be. I trained myself into the ground, that summer, and having him (Stevens) home to train with me, explain some of the basic plays and tell me about the coaches, was huge."

Clearly, Campbell made an impression.

Despite missing the team's one and only exhibition game - suffering an allergic reaction to tape spray, his foot swelled up to the point of not be able to fit it into his cleats - the ultra-focused northern Ontario lad did not have to wait long to get another chance.

"I was better by week one and played the very first kickoff of the season," he explained. "I didn't miss a single snap on specials (teams) the entire season. I played kickoff, kick return, punt, punt return, every single game."

Even with this mandate alone, Campbell would quickly grasp that things are different in the AUS (Atlantic University Sports). "On kickoff teams in high-school, you are typically labelled in lanes one through seven, and you either have contain, or you go for the ball," he stated.

"At university level, every single guy on that field for kickoff has a specific role, specific things to do. You can't mess up your assignment, or there's a hole in that cover team." The truth is that there is an element of a kamikaze approach to Campbell's game that is very well suited to special teams.

"I've always played very smash-mouth and less technical," he said. "At this level, you can't always do that. As much as I would think that it's just go out there and blow people up, I would go back to my room, right after practice, and study the playbook on what you can or can't do on special teams, going over the technique."

Thankfully, there are moments to ad-lib. "Kickoff is my favourite," said Campbell. "For me, it's basically a matter of running straight downfield, head first, and hit anything in sight. On kick and punt return, you can really line a guy up and just toss him."

"It's so much fun to send these guys flying."

And that gets you noticed.

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