PASADENA, Calif. — In the final mass interview of players and coaches before the Rose Bowl on Tuesday, Ohio State had to designate four stars to put at featured podiums, and at one of them sat receiver Parris Campbell.
It’s no surprise, based on the way the fifth-year senior — actually, already a graduate — played in a wide-open passing offense sparked by the record-setting play of quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. But considering where Campbell, a high school running back, once sat on the depth chart, it’s been quite the ride.
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“It's been a long five years,” Campbell said. “There's been a lot of hard work, a lot of time put into it. Just coming in from high school, from playing running back my entire career since I've played football and then making a switch to receiver when I got to college, it was hard. It was rough for me.
“But you know, I never gave up, never quit on myself. Even though some people may have — the critics say what they say, I just never gave up on myself.”
The critics abounded, because for a receiver he seemed to have one major problem: catching the ball. Another was the next more important part: running routes.
But when it came to just flat running, there’s seldom been a more blessed man to play receiver for the Buckeyes. A 4.26-second 40-yard dash this past summer proved that. He needed to combine that speed with reliable hands and precise routes.
Finally, it happened. And this season, Campbell has made NFL teams take notice.
“We all knew how fast he was, but as far as his route-running, him tracking the ball, he worked on that tremendously throughout the offseason, and it has paid off for him,” Haskins said. “I feel like he definitely showed scouts, NFL people that he can catch the ball, that he can run good routes. That’s important.”
Haskins could see it coming from the work Campbell did with fellow fifth-year senior receivers Terry McLaurin and Johnnie Dixon last summer. The payoff for Campbell statistically was his best college season, with a team-leading 79 catches for 992 yards in addition to 11 touchdown catches, tied for most on the team with McLaurin.
“He wanted to do anything possible to put himself in key position for the draft, and he did it,” Haskins said of Campbell.
WalterFootball.com, which ranks draft prospects, has Campbell No. 2 among receivers, behind A.J. Brown of Mississippi. Had Campbell applied for the draft after last season, he likely would have been a late-round pick based on his speed alone, but returning has paid off as he heads into his final game with the Buckeyes against Washington.
“There were things that I needed to get better at, and things I wanted to do and things I wanted to accomplish,” Campbell said. “And this fifth year has definitely been great for me. I feel like I'm going to have a great campaign leading into the NFL. That one more game in the Buckeye uniform, I'm excited to play. But definitely this fifth year has been beneficial.”