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As Patriots come to L.A., Tevaughn Campbell has found his corner in Chargers’ defense

 Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell walks back to the locker room after a game against the Raiders.
Tevaughn Campbell has been very effective as a cornerback for the Chargers this season.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

He has emerged as an unlikely contributor on defense, a player once deemed not good enough for the CFL now sharing time with the Chargers’ $25-million cornerback.

But unlikely is nothing new to Tevaughn Campbell, a regular history-making pigskin pioneer.

“This wasn’t something that was in my mind growing up,” he said. “Where I’m from people don’t go to the NFL.”

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Campbell was born and raised in Toronto. Although the league has had plenty of Canadians, he is believed to be only the second to play cornerback since at least the 1960s.

Mostly a special teamer to open the season, Campbell has been on the field for 50% or more of the defensive snaps over the Chargers’ last four games and six of eight dating to last year.

He and Michael Davis split time against Baltimore, and coach Brandon Staley said Campbell will continue to be used in the secondary as the Chargers prepare to face New England on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

Chargers are hopeful Austin Ekeler can play against the Patriots on Sunday despite missing practices on Thursday and Friday because of hip issue.

Staley has touted Campbell’s size, speed and “big engine.” A former college sprinter, Campbell set a CFL combine record in 2015 with a 4.36-second, electronically timed 40-yard dash.

Still, his four seasons as a pro in Canada came to a bizarre conclusion after a final year during which he was let go by Montreal before even taking his physical.

Campbell said he had signed a new contract and reported to camp when, on the morning of the team’s medicals, there was a 6 a.m. knock at his door. On the other side awaited news that he was being released.

Chargers cornerback Tevaughn Campbell (20) tries to take out the legs of 49ers quarterback Trey Lance.
The Chargers like “the big engine” of cornerback Tevaughn Campbell (20), shown trying to take out the legs of 49ers quarterback Trey Lance in the preseason.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“I got no reason, no explanation,” Campbell recalled. “My agent didn’t know. My DB coaches didn’t even know. It was looking grim. I was thinking, is this the end of my football career?”

Still unsigned midway through that season, Campbell said he began thinking about diving into the real world. He talked to a friend in the commercial real estate business about working together. But then another friend called one day and asked Campbell if he was watching Montreal’s game on television. The Alouettes’ secondary was struggling.

Chargers are coming off their worst performance of the season, in a loss to the Ravens, and come back from a week off to face the Patriots, who dominated L.A. last season.

Campbell contacted his agent with a request to inform team executives he was ready to re-sign. Thirty minutes later, Campbell was told the interest was mutual.

“I was in the locker room my first day back and one of the coaches said, ‘Oh, you decided to come back and play football,’ ” Campbell said. “I was like, no, you guys cut me. The whole thing was strange.”

This was the fall of 2018, a time when the Chargers were putting together a 12-4 season that would result in a playoff berth and the strong suggestion the franchise was climbing. At that point, Campbell going from the CFL’s fringes to the Chargers’ secondary would have seemed much less than unlikely. It would have seemed impossible.

The Chargers are six-point favorites against the New England Patriots on Sunday, but where’s the smart betting money in the matchup?

But Montreal’s then-defensive backs coach, Cris Dishman, is a former NFL player. Campbell said Dishman, a Chargers assistant at one time, told him he had the ability to play in the NFL.

Campbell put together a tape of his highlights and, with the help of Dishman and agents Paul Sheehy and Warren Schmidt, contacted several NFL teams. A few tryouts later, Campbell signed with the New York Jets. He failed to make the team during the 2019 preseason, was released and then signed with the Chargers, who groomed Campbell on their practice squad for a season before he began contributing on Sundays last season.

The path was a winding one, Campbell finally fulfilling a dream, yes, but a dream he never really dreamt. In fact, he said he barely even saw the NFL as a kid, except for an occasional local TV appearance by the Buffalo Bills.

The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 8 of the 2021 NFL season.

“I watched a few of their games,” Campbell said. “The Super Bowl, I think I watched maybe two of them growing up.”

Now, he’s playing in the NFL and Sunday will be in the stadium set to host the next Super Bowl. The league’s only other Canadian cornerback over the last six decades or so also played for the Chargers. Davis Sanchez appeared in 22 games for the team in the early 2000s.

“I guess it is groundbreaking what I’m doing,” Campbell said. “It’s crazy.”

Maybe, but no more so than the path that led him here.


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