Classes commenced at Maryland on Monday, and the first day of school wasn’t too early for Bruce Campbell to absorb one of his most important lessons of the year.
The hulking left tackle - all 6-foot-7, 312 pounds of him - wasn’t having the best of sessions. In turn, neither was the rest of an offense so reliant on the gigantic junior to steady things.
It had been said countless times since the Terrapins flew home from the Humanitarian Bowl on New Year’s Eve: Campbell and center Phil Costa would prove crucial to the team’s chances of matching or surpassing last year’s 8-5 record.
Sometimes those words lose meaning. Just days before Maryland opens its season at No. 12 California, the message was reinforced.
“It was a chain reaction with everybody else,” Campbell said. “The whole practice went down because it was all slack. I was like, ‘Now I know what it is. I can’t play like this.’ … It’s like a big responsibility. I don’t even have anything to compare it to. It just made me realize I got to hang strong this season, not even just for me but also for the younger guys.”
Strength is an asset Campbell possesses in surplus. He cuts an Olympian figure (Zeus is one of the many nicknames he answers to), and his athletic deeds seem to multiply by the week.
Unsurprisingly, he sets up as the next workout warrior to come out of a program that has sent Shawne Merriman, Vernon Davis and Darrius Heyward-Bey soaring up draft boards exiting the past five NFL combines.
And just think: He has concentrated on becoming an offensive lineman rather than dabbling as a defensive end, linebacker, tight end and kicker for a little more than two years.
“In all my years of coaching - 25 years here - of all the linemen I’ve coached and all the ones I’ve seen on the other side of the ball, I’ve never seen an offensive lineman built like Bruce,” said Dwight Galt, Maryland’s director of strength and conditioning. “Basically, he’s 310 pounds, and he’s ripped to shreds, and he has great movement. He’s a specimen. There’s not many that come along like that.”
‘A complete monster’
Campbell’s size isn’t stunning in familial context; his father, Bruce, is 6-9 and played basketball at Providence in the 1970s. His mother, Rita, is 5-11. But there is good reason their son is nicknamed Big Bruce.
At age 12, he was 6-1. He grew another 3 inches by the time he reached high school. At graduation, he was 6-6. Even without extended weight training, he made an instant impression when he arrived in College Park.
“I was like, ‘Who are you?’ And he was like, ‘I’ll be playing next to you,’ ” left guard Lamar Young said. “That kind of excited me. Impressive. In one word, he’s impressive.”
But he has taken some time to develop. He was tossed into action as a freshman, mostly after injuries decimated the offensive line. He didn’t start for half of last season, though coach Ralph Friedgen finally jiggered his lineup after Campbell came off the bench to provide one of the few solid performances in a shutout loss at Virginia.
The best Campbell moments, though, are often reserved for quieter situations. There was his fumble recovery in a scrimmage last month, which nearly led to a touchdown and might have created some ideas about Campbell’s viability as a goal-line back. Who is going to bring him down?