MONROE — Inside Will Campbell’s bedroom, two large buck heads are mounted on a wall and the first duck he ever shot hangs in the corner by his closet, stuffed as a gift from his grandfather.
Camouflage gloves rest on the antlers for the next time he goes hunting, his favorite activity when he’s not playing football. College pennants — some covering old holes — and an LSU poster from his commitment fill the rest of the walls. He keeps the space neat.
Campbell grew up here in a close family that loves to hunt. He didn’t play organized basketball until eighth grade because the schedule interfered with duck-hunting season, and his parents decorated a living room with four deer heads. One of the small plaques underneath them commemorates the first deer Campbell killed in 2009.
“He grew up hunting at my dad’s place in Newellton,” said Campbell’s mother, Holly. “We all would go together.”
That was part of Campbell’s classic upbringing. So was football. His dad, a man nicknamed “Bull” who played offensive line at a small Texas college, nudged him toward the sport. It didn’t take much. Campbell played tackle games with the neighbors before and after school in a nearby yard. When he was about 7 years old, he scribbled plays on a piece of paper.
“He’s always loved football,” Bull said. “Since he was big enough to know what a football was.”
Linebacker Whit Weeks, a three-star prospect from Oconee County (Ga.) High School, committed Saturday afternoon to LSU. He marked the eighth a…
Thing is, plenty of people love sports. Few of them can play at a higher level. With height from his dad’s side, Campbell was always taller than everyone else. He made popcorn for himself when at 18 months old because he could reach the appliances. His youth baseball coach’s wife carried a copy of his birth certificate to prove his age at tournaments.
Campbell grew to 6-foot-6 and 295 pounds in high school, but he had more than size. He naturally moved well, able to bend and maintain his leverage. He developed strength and nimble feet from playing multiple sports. He understood schemes. He worked hard. And as respectful as he was throughout the day, he tapped into a nasty streak when he strapped on his helmet.
“He did a lot of things that nobody else worked on — or possibly couldn’t do — because he was so big and athletic,” Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill said.
The combination made Campbell an ideal left tackle, a rarity in Louisiana. The state churns out skill players, but it doesn’t often produce top offensive linemen. At No. 36 overall, according to the 247Sports Composite, he became the highest-rated in-state offensive lineman since Cam Robinson in 2014.
That made Campbell a priority for LSU. Regardless of the coaching staff, the program wanted him. Head coach Brian Kelly ate étouffée Bull made at their house soon after he got the job last winter.
Once LSU offered a scholarship his sophomore year, Campbell’s decision was never much in question. He also considered Oklahoma, but relatives on both sides went to LSU. His dad’s family used to take a motorhome to games. There’s a picture of Campbell wearing an LSU helmet as a young boy.
“It’s hard for me to believe as many kids leave the state to go elsewhere as they do,” said Campbell’s dad, Brian. “To me, if you grow up in Louisiana and you’ve got an opportunity to play at LSU, that’s where you go play.”
Campbell did, signing as the program’s highest-rated offensive tackle since La’el Collins in 2011. He impressed the coaching staff throughout offseason workouts, and then he took over at left tackle two weeks into spring practice.
Now, Campbell will likely start LSU’s season opener against Florida State, making him handle one of the most demanding positions on the field as a true freshman. He wants the challenge.
“He came here to start Day 1,” said freshman quarterback Walker Howard, Campbell’s roommate and one of his best friends, “and he’s doing it.”
Years ago, Campbell’s parents bought their one-story house in a quiet neighborhood, close to everything they needed. Lawn mowers whir. Kids play in the yards. There’s a market down the street where Campbell once took a golf cart to buy two steaks. He charged the filets to his dad’s account and cooked them in a cast iron skillet for lunch.
Holly’s family stretches back four generations in Monroe, where they’ve operated a store since 1937. It sold dry goods at first, then switched to sports equipment. The building is less than two miles from their church and from Neville High School. Campbell and his younger brother used to fiddle with the helmets and shoulder pads.
“He’s been raised right,” Neville strength coach Eric Herndon said, “which has a lot to do with who he is as a person.”
Campbell’s dad played at Neville in the early ’90s. He sells seed, chemicals and fertilizer now. As a hobby, Bull farms on property an hour away. He used to bring his sons every so often, and they helped lay irrigation pipes or cut weeds growing around light poles.
“They got all they wanted,” Bull said.
Those hours in the sun helped create a strong work ethic. Campbell channeled it toward football. He started out as a fullback and defensive end until youth league weight limits moved him to offensive line.
Campbell’s parents raised him to be polite, but his mindset changes around kickoff. In the locker room before games, he smears eye black over his face and stares ahead, preparing himself to pummel whoever’s across from him. He likes the violence. He often blocks through the whistle. And maybe a little bit longer.
“I guess you could say I kinda got a quick temper when we step out there,” Campbell said.
“He’s going to get some personal foul penalties,” Bull said. “I’m sure Brian Kelly will get all that out of him. But in high school, he was good for at least one a game.”
Part of Campbell’s rare skill set came from playing multiple sports. He tried soccer when he was little. He played baseball for a long time. He joined an AAU basketball team in eighth grade and played until his senior year, and that helped him stay quick on his feet. The variation worked different muscles. Then, once he got to high school, he honed those skills with personal trainers and through Neville’s strength program.
Campbell started at left tackle by the third game of his freshman year. Herndon warned his mom that recruiters would start flocking to them. Players like him rarely appeared.
The next summer, Campbell and his family were on vacation in Colorado when they got an invitation from LSU. The coaching staff wanted to see him at one of their summer camps in 2019. Campbell’s family left their trip a day early.
LSU tested Campbell in a group with seniors and junior college players. He had never tried a camp like that before. Campbell lunged on his first rep. An older defensive end swam past him.
“He got dust-rolled,” Bull said.
Campbell struggled the rest of the day. Afterward, then-head coach Ed Orgeron spoke to him.
“ ‘Look, I was prepared to offer you a scholarship,’ ” Bull recalled Orgeron saying. “ ‘But you didn’t win a battle. You need to go home and think about this and come back to the next camp.’ ”
On the three-hour drive home, Campbell didn’t speak. He was so angry, tears welled in his eyes. Football makes him more emotional than anything else. He hates to lose.
Two weeks later, Campbell returned for another camp. He held his own this time, and LSU’s offer arrived that fall. One day, the family’s mailbox overflowed with recruiting pitches as he turned into one of the top recruits in the country.
Campbell stuffed the letters into a plastic box still in his room. That wasn’t enough.
“It bothers him that he wasn’t ranked No. 1, you know?” Bull said. “Small things like that drive him a little more.”
“Everything is motivation to be better,” said Campbell’s aunt, Lindsey Braddock. “And he wants to be the best.”
When Markee Anderson and his family walked into their rooms at the Renaissance Hotel last week, handwritten welcome signs, LSU bracelets and s…
Sitting in an office near the Neville weight room, Tannehill made a comparison. He has coached around Monroe for decades, and the only other player who reminded him of Campbell was Andrew Whitworth. They shared similar size, athleticism and work ethic.
Whitworth went to high school across the river in West Monroe, where he became one of the top offensive linemen in the nation. An athletic 6-foot-7 and 322 pounds during his college career, Whitworth started 52 games and helped win a national championship at LSU in 2003. He then played 16 seasons in the NFL before he retired this winter after earning a Super Bowl ring with the Los Angeles Rams.
“He fared pretty good,” Tannehill said.
Campbell looked up to Whitworth since he started playing offensive line, often watching his tape because of their shared hometown and college. He hopes to carve out a similar career.
“I’ve got a long way to go before I’m anywhere near where he is,” Campbell said.
As much as Whitworth gives Campbell inspiration as a player, he provides an example for how to conduct himself. Whitworth gets recognized for his philanthropic work through the Big Whit 77 Foundation. This year, he accepted the Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Campbell’s mom watched the speech. That’s what she wants her son to emulate.
“We talk about that a lot,” Holly said. “About how much good he does for other people and what an influence he made on so many people’s lives outside of football. I tell Will that all the time: If you’re going to strive to be like somebody, make sure it includes being a good human, too.”
If Campbell matches a fraction of Whitworth’s career, LSU will have a productive lineman. It hopes for more. The coaching staff saw someone with the physical traits and mental makeup to handle one of the game’s most difficult positions two weeks into his career. There may be mistakes along the way as a freshman, but he has shown the ability to learn from them.
Plus, Campbell has spent a summer in LSU’s offseason training program. Herndon intentionally kept Campbell’s weight under 300 pounds in high school. He weighs 324 now with the strength visible in his neck and his arms. His aunt and uncle, Lindsey and Brett Braddock, had to bring him new clothes two weekends in a row last month.
“He’s looking like an offensive lineman now,” Bull said.
As a true freshman, Campbell expects to get matched against everyone’s best edge rusher. He doesn’t care. That comes with the territory, and the competition will help him improve. He wants to become a freshman All-American, win a national championship and one day reach the NFL.
Campbell seems nonchalant about the whole thing. It just doesn’t faze him. Recently, he mentioned to his dad that LSU had 60 days until the season opener. He was already thinking about the game, eager to get on the field and start his career.
“He wishes it was six days,” Campbell’s uncle said. “Not 60.”