West Monroe at Neville - 2019

Played at Bill Ruple Stadium, Monroet, La. 4Octt2019. Photo by TOM MORRIS/The Ouachita Citizen. c.2019.TomMorrisPhotos.com . All Rights Reserved.

Will Campbell is bucking a recent trend.

Ever since former Neville Tiger Rashard Lawrence graduated in 2016, Ouachita Parish has not garnered the same amount of national recognition amongst recruiting services the area grew accustomed to seeing. Including Alabama’s Slade Bolden (West Monroe) and Phidarian Mathis (Neville), the list of Power 5 Division I players from the parish is a short one.

Because of that, national recruiting services haven’t covered Ouachita Parish in some time. That will all change when Campbell, Class of 2022 4-star offensive lineman, picks his college destination.

Who will Campbell choose? Well, Neville’s blue chip lineman is keeping his options open, and he has plenty of them with 38 offers and counting from schools across the country.

Aside from generating national attention from anybody who’s anybody — Campbell holds offers from LSU, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia, Florida, Florida State, Oregon, etc. — he also added another feather in his cap when he received an invite to participate in the 2022 Under Armour All-American Game.

“It’s truly a blessing,” Campbell said. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity. I don’t even know how to explain it. It’s something I’ve always wanted, and it’s coming true. I have to keep working.”

Neville head coach Mickey McCarty is no stranger to having heralded recruits, but the interest Campbell is generating is certainly unique. McCarty said Campbell is only the fourth Neville Tiger under McCarty to receive an invite to play in The Under Armour All-American Game, which has featured the Top 100 players in the country since debuting in 2008. NFL players such as Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Leonard Fournette, Jameis Winston and Amari Cooper have participated in the game in years previous.

“(John) Diarse played in the (All-American Bowl), and Robert Lane had an invite to that one too but didn’t get to play because of an injury,” McCarty said. “It’s a heck of an honor being invited. It certainly features the cream of the crop around the country.”

COVID-19 hasn’t stopped the barrage of offers that have come Campbell’s way this offseason, but it has made the recruiting process inconvenient at times. Campbell has participated in “virtual visits” where coaches will show off their campus as best they can digitally, and he’s had numerous camp cancellations since the pandemic. Still, he got to visit both LSU and Baylor before COVID-19 shut down face-to-face interactions.

“I loved visiting with LSU, and they have great coaches that I talk to every week,” Campbell said. “I’m open to anybody and keeping it open. I’d love to commit with my teammates at the end of the season. I want to commit with the guys I played with because we’re all in this together. That would be special.”

Reality is some college-hopeful teammates are hurting from the lack of exposure that summer camps provide all high school athletes across the country. But Neville players will likely benefit from the attention Campbell brings the school in the days to come. McCarty has seen that transpire before with numerous prospects, including Lawrence.

“It gets eyes on your campus,” McCarty said. “With Rashard, I think back to that 2014 group and all the guys that ended up playing college football. It gets college coaches on campus, and it’s not just good for our school. It’s also good for this area, because I can tell coaches about other prospects in the area that they might not know about.”

Before any college coach can get on campus and see players work out, the players have to actually return to campus for said workouts. The LHSAA announced on May 14 that it was postponing summer workouts until June 8, but that hasn’t stopped players like Campbell from working out on his own. Campbell, who got a taste of playing both ways late last season and would like to get another opportunity to do so next season, has been getting together with fellow offensive linemen to do their own workouts in anticipation of hitting the ground running on June 8.

“I would love to play both sides this year, but we’re going to do whatever is best for the team,” Campbell said. “Whatever is going to get us to New Orleans. Whatever it takes. We were up (against Edna Karr in last year’s semifinals at home) and we let it slip away. It shouldn’t have happened, and I promise you that won’t happen again.”

Campbell has his eyes on the Tigers’ first state title since 2015. But before Campbell and the Tigers take their shot at another trip to New Orleans, Campbell will navigate a busy summer full of unique offseason workouts along with calls and texts from coaches around the country. He’s appreciative of the spotlight, but the last thing he’ll allow to happen is for all of his offseason recognition to go to his head.

“It’s nice and all, but the recruiting stuff doesn’t define me,” Campbell said. “The stars. The rankings. I’m still Will Campbell no matter what. It doesn’t change the person I am.”

Award-winning sports writer for columns and features since joining the field in 2013. As the first-ever featured columnist of the month at Bleacher Report, Martin cut his teeth with online media before joining the newspaper business in 2014.

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