So here he comes now, out of the shadow and into the midday sun of let-em-up-easy August: Antoin Campbell, following the natural progression of things.
He is no longer 18 years old, landing in a strange place 140 miles from home. He is no longer Someone Who Might Help Us A Little This Year, nor even Someone To Keep An Eye On.
No, sir. Every eye is already on him.
That was sealed a year ago, when Campbell, a 5-foot-10, 200-pound running back out of Springboro, Ohio, carried the football more times for more yards than any running back ever at Saint Francis. His 240 carries broke the school single-season record. So did his 1,204 yards. Six times he cracked the century mark in a season highlighted by his 27-carry, 141-yard day against No. 1 Marian, and the 49 carries and 238 yards he piled up in playoff wins over Lindenwood and Baker.
Now he returns as a Beyond Sports Network preseason NAIA All-American, and no kid anymore. Hes 22 years old. Although a junior in eligibility, he could graduate in May. And hes the centerpiece of a potentially devastating offense in ways that extend far beyond the field.
Hes a mature young man, Saint Francis coach Kevin Donley says. Hes really stepped up and takes ownership in this team. (This week) we have our community service Champions of Character, and hes one of the six players that are going to be taking the lead in that as we go out to different organizations.
Pretty neat kid. Good football player.
And if one has become inseparable from the other these days, it all goes back to that natural progression. When it all goes right, a freshman becomes a name becomes a leader.
It is a little different, says Campbell, whose poise is evident from the moment he opens his mouth. Coming here as a freshman, I was one of those guys trying to look up to the older guys. Now I am one of those older guys, so its kind of weird.
But I kind of like it at the same time.
And so, yes, hell step into that role. Hell try to lead by example. He will, he says, try to be a little bit more vocal, even as he admits thats something new for him.
And on the field?
I feel like its just the same thing, he says. Just come out here and play as hard as I can. Just do what I can for the team. I dont feel like my roles changed all that much. Just more of a target I guess.
In more ways than one. Campbell was almost purely a running back last season, catching just nine passes for 46 yards.
But with Patrick Donley taking over as offensive coordinator this fall, thats likely to change.
Oh, were going to throw to him more, Kevin Donley says. We found out hes a pretty good receiver. With some of the things were doing offensively, were going to get five people out more instead of trying to keep one in to protect.
Not that he wont be getting his carries, of course.
Hes got great vision and the ability to run a lot of reads, Kevin Donley says. And hes getting bigger and stronger as time goes on. And hes got good speed. Hes deceiving because hes kind of a long strider.
Longer now than ever, it seems. And in many more ways than one.