Jaxson Campbell played his last high school football game without knowing if he still had a chance to play in college.
It was a tense feeling.
But by December, he sensed a breakthrough.
His workout partner in Memphis had a connection with Naval Academy football offensive line coach Ashley Ingram, who recruits Middle Tennessee. He called Ingram on behalf of Campbell, who had been contacting schools for months to find a college football home.
“He helped me out,” Campbell said. “I was talking to coach Ingram over the next couple days. The Naval Academy had to make sure my academics were where they needed to be. I think it was a Friday when he called me (and offered me a scholarship).”
Campbell, who went into the fall with a new position and no collegiate offers, verbally committed on the spot and signed the next week.
“I was praying that my play would speak for itself this season,” he said, “and I’m glad it did.”
The former Independence quarterback had one last chance to reminisce with his Williamson County friends during the 7th Annual WILLCO Awards banquet last week, before he leaves for school the last week of July.
Campbell was up for Football Offensive Player of the Year in what turned out to be a monster season after he converted from safety/wide receiver to quarterback. He threw for 2,012 yards, 20 touchdowns and just two interceptions. He ran for 776 yards and 14 TDs.
Campbell had plenty of tools — and hours of highlight reels — to show potential college coaches. But his window of opportunity was shrinking.
NCAA eligibility extensions that were granted to collegiate players last year meant fewer roster spots for 2021 high school seniors. He and many other high school seniors self-managed their recruiting processes.
The pandemic made it more difficult. Some schools Campbell spoke with weren’t even playing football in the fall. He didn’t always know his own availability, because with contact tracing many high school games were canceled or postponed.
In the meantime he kept working to reach coaches.
“I talked to James Madison, Wake Forest, Vanderbilt, and they literally said they didn’t have room for me because the seniors were coming back,” Campbell said. “It was a really rough and stressful year with COVID and recruiting. But God had a plan for me and I’m so excited to be at the Naval Academy.”
Before he officially suits up in college, Campbell will attend the Naval Preparatory School in Rhode Island, per school guidelines. The academy has a strict four-year graduation program.
“It’s pretty unique. They have their own football team. You’ll be playing other prep schools and we’ll play Army’s prep school,” he said. “It’s really a year to get work in, because Navy is rigorous on the academics. It’s a year to get you ready for the academy.”
Campbell won’t soon forget his senior season in high school.
“I love Tennessee, but I’m ready to leave this place,” he said. “It’s been great, but I’m ready to get after it. I’m pumped to get big and strong and learn (the Navy) offense.”