Parris Campbell is gaining attention for his knack at finding the crack on a kickoff return.
The fourth-year junior, a hybrid back for Ohio State’s offense, leads the nation after four games with a kickoff return average of 45.6 yards on five tries.
“It’s really rewarding,” Campbell said Wednesday as OSU zeroed in on a game Saturday at Rutgers. “But it doesn’t come without the other 10 guys in front of me who do their job every single game.”
That might be the case. Linebacker Tuf Borland, for example, is astute at chopping through the first wave of coverage players and paving the way. But there have been return men in recent years, working in the same system as Campbell, who haven’t had nearly the same success.
That’s why when Campbell was cornered Wednesday, with inquirers wanting to know what sets him apart, he praised his blockers but then got into the more personal stuff.
“A sense of vision, getting the ball in your hands, just speed,” Campbell said. “Once you have that with the 10 guys in front of me, that’s why it works so well.”
In a word, coach Urban Meyer said he knows what sets Campbell apart:
Campbell has proved — both on catch-and-run plays on offense that went for touchdowns and on several kickoff returns — that if he can find just a crack, he can take it a long way, something not lost on the 10 blocking for him, Meyer said.
“I’ve done that special team (coaching) forever, if you get a real guy back there, you block harder. Just human nature,” Meyer said. “If you get a guy who can’t do that, then ‘Why am I doing this?’ Because there’s not one player in this program who came here (with the dream) to be a right guard on kickoff return.
“But the culture of the program, knowing that cat is back there, you better block hard because this might come out.”
Campbell first flashed that ability last season, leading the Big Ten with a 27.8-yard average on 21 returns. This season, he picked up where he left off. Last week in a 54-21 win over UNLV, he took the second-half kickoff back 82 yards before being forced out at the 3-yard line, coming that close to his first return for a touchdown in college.
But he knows what crossing the finish line feels like. He said he took several kickoffs and punts back for TDs in his four seasons playing for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary.
The trick, if there is one, is not much different than what he did on the 69-yard catch-and-run he made for Ohio State’s first touchdown last week off a wide screen pass. He made his cut as two would-be tacklers flashed past, then used the one clearing block he needed, from receiver Austin Mack.
“When you see a hole you’ve just got to hit it,” Campbell said. “Kick return is not really make-a-guy-miss. It’s you’ve got to get the ball, make one cut and go.”