Looking to tighten up the ship coming off a headache of a season, the Glendale Community College football team is building its approach to the 2001 season around focusing on the small things.
At 6 foot 2, 310 pounds, Sam Campbell isn't one of those, but the sophomore right tackle has been at the forefront of the Vaqueros' efforts to refocus and rededicate themselves in the offseason and is one of the key pieces around which the team hopes to revive its offensive attack.
"He's a great leader," sophomore quarterback Kevin Hunter says. "He's the biggest guy on the team and since he's been here, he's proven himself as a leader. He leads the offensive line and he gets a good push, so we're excited."
In his first year out of Crescenta Valley High, Campbell started every game for the Vaqueros last season and was rewarded for his development with an All-Western State Conference second-team nod. But Campbell didn't much feel like celebrating individual accomplishments in light of the team's 1-9 finish, with a win in its final game the only buffer against a completely cheerless campaign.
He didn't shy away from an honest appraisal of what went wrong for himself and his teammates, citing a lack of attention to detail that manifested itself in critical make-or-break situations.
"I think a good example of that was the Pierce game," Campbell says of a 42-40 Oct. 9 home loss to L.A. Pierce College, in which a two-point conversion attempt to send the game to overtime was botched by a penalty for having too many men on the field before a quarterback run up the middle was stopped well short of the goal line. "It just showed me that just that extra rep on bench or that extra rep on squat or listening to coach on the board talking … I really feel like if we had done more of the small things last year, we would have won those games that were so close."
The Vaqueros' success this season will depend heavily on Campbell and his teammates on the line being able to protect Hunter and advance the bread-and-butter running game. But the turnaround begins with Campbell's leadership, which never let the team quit last season and has kept the locker room united on the goal at hand heading into this one.
"Sam's got a pretty rare quality, I think," right guard Ronnie Marquez says. "Sam is always upbeat with everything, always positive.
"He's a good leader. …Everything you want to see in a leader, that's what Sam does.
"Last year, we did have our rough patches, but Sam always had something to say, he always kept us upbeat, always looking forward."
It was a presence the Vaqueros needed in order to soldier through last year's nine-game losing streak, but even while the team was struggling, Campbell was drawing notice.
Campbell says he's had contact with USC, been a guest at a UCLA practice and received interest from other schools.
"You never know what can happen," Campbell says. "It's always been a desire of mine to play at the highest level and see if I can really hang.
"After going to SC a couple times, I felt like I could really achieve that and that I will achieve that."
Glendale college Coach John Rome says that Campbell made big strides as a freshman in his ability to strike, get his feet moving and sustain a block, so much to the point where it's now his strength.
"When he gets his hands on you, he can finish and he's got very good speed and a very high football IQ," Rome says.
And that was after spending the first two games of last season on the defensive line. A two-way starter with an emphasis on offense at Crescenta Valley, Campbell wanted to try something different in college and the coaching staff obliged, until it was realized how much he was needed on the offensive side of the ball.
"I've always seen myself as a defender, but I'm just naturally good at offense," Campbell says. "Whatever helps the team. Coach actually left it up to me. I've seen myself more as a defensive player, but I'm starting to see myself as more of an offensive player now just with run blocking and pass blocking and all those things."
Rome said Campbell's appeal to Division I schools also comes from his hard work to become a better student.
"He's getting a lot of look-see from Division I schools because he is [an academic] qualifier," Rome says. "He has passed close to 40 academic units in two summer schools and two semesters. He does a very serious job in the classroom.
"He's really what we like. We really want the academic student-athlete. …You're in college to transfer, that's what you're here for."
Whatever team Campbell may join next year, he's committed to being a Vaquero in the now.
"The more I've gotten to know those guys, I've just gotten to have personal relationships with every last one of them," Campbell says of his teammates. "We want to defend each other and help each other out and help each other fulfill our goals.
"My responsibility on the field is to go hard when nobody else feels like going hard. It's really to bring everyone together."