Will Campbell entered Michigan in 2009 a U.S. Army All-American, an oversized defensive lineman with all the potential and talent in the world.
He needed to drop some weight, but he was thought to be a player who could make an immediate impact. Except it didn’t happen.
He played in 12 games as a freshman and made four tackles. He played in 13 games as a sophomore, only made one tackle and even flirted with moving to the offensive line.
Then came this season and when Michigan brought in Brady Hoke to replace Rich Rodriguez, the new coaching staff told Campbell he had to slim down and get in better shape.
He did -- and for the third straight season played in every game. By midseason, he became a legitimate member of the defensive tackle rotation. His production still wasn’t great -- he only made 14 tackles this season -- but as the year progressed, he started to show more flashes of what made him such a valuable commodity.
Seeing more time than ever, Campbell had a career-high three tackles in the Allstate Sugar Bowl against Virginia Tech and might have put traction to an upcoming senior season where he’ll be expected to do big things in place of the departed Mike Martin and Will Heininger.
“I played the best I can,” Campbell said. “I’m going to leave that to the coaches (how much I play).”
That said, Campbell has something to prove as a senior. He knows it, too, although he’s felt like that almost his entire life.
“I always think I’m in the position to have to prove something,” Campbell said. “Just because of where I come from, how I was raised. I was raised like that.
“Just to be a dominant player and to play like a defensive lineman.”
For days leading up to the Sugar Bowl, Hoke tutored Campbell personally. He sees the almost unending potential in the 6-foot-5, 322-pound defensive tackle.
And the defensive line is the one spot on the Michigan roster that will be gutted entering next season. Three starters -- Martin, Heininger and Ryan Van Bergen -- depart. Craig Roh will likely own one spot on the line, more than likely at the end, and another potential starter is Campbell.
Finally, he’ll be able to start to try and live up to the lofty high school ranking he attained because Hoke considers rebuilding the line a major priority.
“Probably up at the top,” Hoke said. “That and the offensive line but you’re talking to a line coach so that’s always, to me, where the game is played.
“We have got some work to do.”