The injury that sidelined Branden Oliver last season created an opportunity for true freshman running back Devin Campbell to show what he could do. And when Campbell shined in a reserve role, amassing three 100-yard games on the ground, it sent the UB coaching staff into the offseason pondering ways to get Campbell on the field even as Oliver returned as the primary running back.
Campbell had more to offer than his ability as a runner. His freshman season also highlighted his skills as a pass catcher. He ranked third on the team with 21 receptions good for 176 yards. He took a short pass against Toledo and turned it into a 42-yard touchdown play. The solution was obvious. With Oliver destined for the bulk of the carries, why not utilize Campbell in a receiver’s role?
When first approached with the idea, Campbell wasn’t sure what to think. It took until his senior year of high school in Youngstown, Ohio, before he was cast as the primary running back. His freshman season with the Bulls had validated his value as a runner. Were they asking him to change positions?
“I came in to play running back and I didn’t know if they were going to switch me so I was kind of stuck,” Campbell said. “Am I going to get switched in the fall? Is that why they’re doing this?”
“We understood that,” said offensive coordinator Alex Wood. “He sees himself as a runner first and we do, too. But we also know that he’s got good ball skills and he has reasonably good speed and the ability to do some things that a receiver does from the backfield. And then if we can stay in a particular personnel grouping and get in some different formations, that’s always a plus for us.”
Campbell has become an integral part of the passing game. Sometimes he lines up in the backfield. Sometimes he lines up in the slot. On occasion he’ll start out in the backfield and then motion to the slot. He fills a need for an offense looking to divert attention from wideout Alex Neutz and produce more after-the-catch yardage.
“It’s warming up to me,” Campbell said. “When they first introduced it, I was like, ‘Well, you know, that’s OK,’ but now I really love it. I support the decision to put me out there. Whatever the team needs.”
It’s all familiar territory.
“I actually started out as a receiver in high school and then I ended up moving to RB,” Campbell said. “My first real year of RB was really my senior year of high school; the rest was me kind of catching the ball in the slot and stuff.”
Campbell remains a running back at heart and UB’s not about to change that up over the long haul. He put up big numbers his final season at Boardman High School and earned a spot in the Ohio all-star game in April 2012. On that occasion, he broke off an 88-yard touchdown run in Ohio Stadium, site of UB’s Aug. 31 season-opener against the Buckeyes.
“I make big plays when it counts; that’s what I try to do,” Campbell told the Cleveland Plain Dealer after that game.
And that’s why UB has found alternative ways to work him into the offense while he awaits his shot at becoming the primary back.