Parris Campbell Jr. recalls being a little nervous when he first entered St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and donned the green and gold.
Doubt crept into his mind as a 13-year-old freshman two years ago.
Thoughts of intimidation being around some of the older football players were present, but shortly thereafter his mind was set at ease.
“Before I even got accepted to St. Vincent-St. Mary I talked to my mom a lot and said I’m scared, and I don’t know if this is where I want to go,” Campbell said. “She was like ‘Parris, no, you will be fine. You just have to get used to it after a couple of weeks.’
“After those couple of weeks I was good to go. [Then senior and current Ohio State sophomore] Doran Grant was my big sib, which is this thing where you get assigned to a senior as a freshman and they show you around to your classes. He talked to me and told me what St. Vincent-St. Mary was all about. Later that day I came down to football practice. After that I got used to it.”
Fighting Irish coach Dan Boarman and his staff are glad Campbell did as they prepare for the Division III state championship game against Bellevue at 11 a.m. Saturday at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.
“Parris has been just one of those kids that has come around big time,” Boarman said. “I didn’t know where we were with Parris when we started the season. ... Last year he wasn’t big or thick. He has really grown into a man. He has matured big time.”
Campbell, a 15-year-old junior, has grown from 5-foot-10, 160 pounds as a freshman to 6-1, 185 and has emerged as the Irish’s top running back this season. He has rushed for 1,188 yards and 25 touchdowns on 146 carries.
“When I do get to the hole, my coach always tells me to bounce outside,” Campbell said. “If I do bounce it outside and get to the sideline, I don’t feel like anybody can catch me because of my speed.”
Campbell showed that speed in the 48-13 state semifinal win last Saturday over Dover at Massillon. He took a handoff and ran to his right and sprinted down the sideline for a 94-yard touchdown run.
“I knew that as soon as he got even with that one [defender] he was gone,” Boarman said. “He is fast.”
Campbell, who turns 16 on July 16, also has 12 receptions for 130 yards and one touchdown. He has also made an impact as a defensive back and on special teams too. He has returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown and has gained 252 yards on eight returns. As a punt returner, he has scored two touchdowns (65 and 81 yards) and accumulated 475 yards on 22 returns.
“I actually didn’t think I would be playing right now just because of my age,” Campbell said. “I came in thinking that coaches would be like ‘Oh, yeah, he is inexperienced because of his age.’ It has been really different and I am blessed to have the opportunity to be here right now, and I am just thankful for it.”
Campbell, a resident of Akron’s north side with his mother and stepfather, Shelly and Reuben Woodruff, is no stranger to state titles. He won Division II state titles in track and field as a member of two Irish 400-meter relay units. He joined Grant, Sae’Von Fitzgerald and Mark Murphy as a freshman, and then combined with Fitzgerald, Fransohn Bickley and Matt Matuska as a sophomore.
Campbell said he inherited the speed from his father, Parris Campbell, a North graduate, and his uncle, Damon Reid, a Buchtel graduate.
“My grandmother, my mom’s mom, [Cassie McGowan] was a really good athlete too,” Campbell said. “When she was younger, she was a tomboy and she would always want to play with the boys. She played football and ran. She tells me stories all the time about [how] she would beat the boys when she was a kid. She still loves sports, but she is not a total tomboy anymore.
“My mother is the biggest support system I have. She’s broken her back just to make me happy and she makes me happy every day and I love her for that.”
Shelly Woodruff said Parris skipped kindergarten because he was reading at a first-grade level.
“They said they didn’t want him to get bored,” Woodruff said. “So they decided to advance him. He has never had a problem. He has always been so mature for his age.”
Campbell was a backup tailback last year to Fitzgerald and Matuska. This year he has shined behind a line that features seniors Nick Karipides, Tom Paolucci, Derek Pierog, Bryan Wisor and Kevin Alexander and junior Derek Whiddon.
“The bond I have with these older guys is great,” Campbell said. “When I came in as a freshman, they just took me under their wing. Ever since then, I have been good friends with all of them. We joke and play around all the time.
“Our offensive line is absolutely amazing. Every time I score, I always go to them and thank them. They make me happen. Whatever I do, it all comes back on them. They make adjustments when necessary and are really smart.”
Campbell’s speed has caught attention of several colleges. He is being recruited for track and field and football.
“I want to play college football,” Campbell said.
He said he is getting interest from Indiana, Penn State, Akron, Cincinnati and Northwestern.
This week his focus will be on Bellevue.
Michael Beaven can be reached at 330-996-3829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MBeavenABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.