CEDAR FALLS — Jack Campbell isn’t one to seek the spotlight, yet he hasn’t been able to dodge it in recent years.
The all-state linebacker from Cedar Falls worked his way into becoming a three-star college football prospect and one of the most sought-after recruits within the state’s 2019 class. A genuine and polite individual who was named Homecoming king this fall, Campbell was the subject of countless recruiting pitches last year after narrowing down his college search to Minnesota, Iowa State and Iowa.
Coaches from Iowa State and Iowa were frequent faces in the crowds at basketball games, while classmates also made the case for their favorite school.
“I’d go sit in class and some kids I wouldn’t even know would be harping on me to go to one school or another,” Campbell recalls. “I thought it was kind of funny. I’m kind of a quiet kid, so I just laughed.”
Whether playing with younger brothers Kyle and Drew in the back yard or inside a football stadium or basketball gymnasium, competition flips a switch inside Campbell. Cedar Falls football coach Brad Remmert and basketball coach Ryan Schultz each describe him as one of the greatest competitors they’ve instructed.
“He competes every down out there and makes our other kids better,” Remmert said, noting Campbell has caused his first-team offense problems since junior year during one vs. one reps. “If you don’t have it strapped up, he’s going to come in and hit you real hard so you’d better be ready to go. He elevates everybody’s play around him. He’s just a heck of a kid. One of the great players that have come through our program.”
That’s certainly high praise within a perennial playoff program that often ranks among Class 4A’s elite.
Campbell, however, is quick to point out success hasn’t come naturally. Dedication, passion and support from parents, stepparents, coaches and teammates has all been part of the growth process for a kid who once worried about trying to find his way off the junior high B team.
The son of former University of Northern Iowa offensive guard Dave Campbell learned from a young age the value of hard work.
“I’d really get down on myself and my dad would always be there for me and tell me that you’ve got to work for what you want to get,” said Campbell, who committed to the University of Iowa last spring. “I didn’t really ever think about playing college football until ninth grade year.
“I worked my butt off my whole high school career in the weight room and in the back yard with my dad helping. He’d get a little blocking pad out and he’d always work on hand drills. He’d push me, but at the end of the day it was my choice on how good I wanted to be.”
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Drawn to the physical aspect of a sport in which Campbell points out you have to get yourself up after being knocked down, defense became his focus after Peet Junior High coach Steve Chidester pulled him aside in eighth grade and suggested giving linebacker a try.
“I fell in love with the position,” Campbell said. “It’s so fun to try and get inside the offense’s head and figure out what plays they’re going to run. ... The linebacker position is like the quarterback of the defense and I thought that was really cool.”
Campbell grew a few inches and added 20 pounds of muscle onto the 6-foot, 160-pound frame he had entering ninth grade. He earned a starting spot at outside linebacker as a sophomore before conducting one of the state’s top defenses from the middle linebacker position over the past two seasons.
As a junior, Campbell recorded a team-high 92 tackles — 11 for loss — while the 9-2 Tigers held eight opponents to seven points or less. He’s continued to cause havoc with his athleticism shining Friday as Class 4A’s No. 2 Cedar Falls (7-0) recorded its fourth shutout of the season against Waterloo West. Campbell went over the top of a blocker to bat down one pass and reached around a blocker on a separate play to pull the quarterback down with one hand.
“He just has this unique ability to read a play and react to it very quickly,” Remmert said. “He doesn’t have a lot of missteps in his reads and then he gets there in a hurry. He’s a very explosive kid who finds a way to the windows and gets the run-throughs. He’s always around the football.”
In addition to his football success, Campbell played center on a basketball team that won the school’s first state title last winter. Logan Wolf, Jackson Frericks and Sam Gary are among the teammates who also bring a championship culture into football.
They’d love nothing more than to compete for another title this fall on the UNI-Dome turf in their hometown.
“Just the mentality of always outworking the other team, we did that a lot in basketball,” Campbell said. “Even if we had a good practice, it could have been better or a school across the state could have had a better practice than us that night.
“We’ve been through everything together. When I look to my right and my left before we go out on the field, I have complete trust in those guys. They’re all competitors, very good athletes. They know what it’s like to go through a hard practice. I always know they’ll do their thing and they know I’ll do my thing.”
Driven to excel, Remmert has little doubt Campbell will succeed at the next level.
“Knowing the staff at Iowa and their strength coach (Chris) Doyle and how they develop people, it will be interesting to see the path he takes,” Remmert said. “I think he’s athletic enough that he can play standing up. He’s also got the framework that if they chose a different path, he can put his hand down as a d-end and play. All signs point to him having a great career at the University of Iowa.”