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VOL. 35 | NO. 36 | Friday, September 9, 2011

‘What ifs’ no longer haunt ex-janitor Campbell

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Tommie Campbell may have surprised some people by making the Tennessee Titans’ 53-man roster as a seventh-round rookie.

But to hear Campbell tell it, that was all icing on the proverbial cake.

In his mind, he had already overcome the biggest obstacle in his life simply by being in the Titans’ training camp.

For those who don’t know, Campbell, the Titans’ final pick from tiny California (Pa.), had quite literally thrown his football career in the trash a few years before.

Once a high school teammate of New York Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis, both went to the University of Pittsburgh where Campbell had issues with grades and class attendance. He bounced from Pitt to Edinboro, and finally out of school working a minimum-wage job as a janitor in the Pittsburgh Airport.

“I was making $7.15 an hour. I was struggling, man,” Campbell recalls. “To be honest, I was struggling badly at that time. And I got the opportunity to go back to school, and I just made the most of it.”

During his time pushing a broom and scrubbing toilets, Campbell, who has two children to support, had plenty of time to think where his life had gone wrong.

He would see Revis on television, a star and with a big contract playing for the Jets, and know that could have been him had he made better choices.

“Not taking anything away from him, but seeing that he made it, and me and him had gone the same exact route from high school to Pitt, he made it and I didn’t make it,” Campbell says. “It just hurt even more to see somebody that you knew the whole time in high school make it, and you didn’t make it. You think to yourself, ‘What does he have that I don’t have?’ He’s one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL, and I was at home watching him on TV.”

Tommie Campbell

-- Associated Press

The lowest point, he says, came when he saw one of his former Pitt Panther teammates, safety Elijah Fields, strolling through the airport on his way to Miami, wearing a Pittsburgh football sweatshirt. Campbell knew then that a golden opportunity had passed him by.

“I saw one of my former teammates at the University of Pittsburgh going to Miami, and that hurt really bad. That was one of the worst days of my life, seeing one of my old teammates walk through with a Pittsburgh football shirt on,” Campbell says. “He was a starting safety at the time. I saw him at the airport, and I couldn’t even explain how I felt. I didn’t feel low, but I felt like I messed up, and he was doing what he needed to do, and I’m doing this.”

Even though Campbell had flushed his chances, he got one last chance to make good and decided to take it.

He ended up at Division II California (Pa.), and after the season earned an invitation to a college all-star game. He caught the Titans attention by running a 4.31 time in the 40-yard dash there, enticing Tennessee to gamble on the 6-foot-2 Campbell with its final pick in the draft.

Campbell rewarded them and himself with a strong preseason to earn a roster spot.

“I really can’t explain it. I knew I went out there and gave it my all in all four preseason games. And if it wasn’t good enough, it wasn’t good enough. I knew I did everything on my behalf to put myself in this position,” he says.

To Campbell, the most rewarding part is not necessarily being an NFL player, but knowing that he won’t have to ask himself or explain to his son about past failures.

“To no longer say, ‘what if.’ I was saying ‘what if’ for two and a-half years,” Campbell adds. “Being a has-been and all that. Seeing my son grow up, I didn’t want to have to tell him, ‘Son, I messed my career up.’

“Now, I’m a positive role model to him and I don’t want to have to say ‘what if’ to myself. I feel like I redeemed myself and then some. I felt like I redeemed myself just by giving it another try. I don’t have to say ‘what if.’ Making it was just a bigger bonus.”

Terry McCormick covers the Titans for TitanInsider.com and is the AFC blogger for National Football Post.

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