By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Practice reps are at a premium for true freshmen, and University of Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell is making the most of those opportunities.
On a Tuesday practice during the first game week of his fledgling career, Campbell, a 6-foot-4, 218-pounder from Cedar Falls (Iowa) High School, made play after play. He waited and observed until his time to enter at middle linebacker arrived. On the first snap, a wide receiver cut across the middle of the field. When the pass was delivered, Campbell closed quickly and with his right hand, batted the ball to the turf.
A few minutes later during a special teams session, Campbell took his place for kickoff return. When the ball was in the air, he dropped 15 yards, found a would-be tackler, and drove him five yards into the center of the field until the kick returner sprinted down the sideline, unscathed.
Near the end of practice, Campbell returned to linebacker where the defense was taking on a scout offense. On his play, Campbell identified a running back coming out of the backfield and stuck closely to him, forcing the quarterback to look for a second option. The pass was heaved downfield and incomplete.
“He is a high-energy, positive-attitude player,” Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz said. “You can tell he has a passion for the game.”
Campbell’s father, Dave, played for Northern Iowa from 1986-89, so Jack grew up a fan of the Panthers.
“I didn’t know much about the Iowa program, but I love it here,” Campbell said. “It is the best decision I have made.”
His first recollection of his path to Iowa City was when Iowa assistant coach Reese Morgan made a recruiting visit to Cedar Falls High School.
“There is no better man than that guy, and how genuine he was to me,” Campbell said. “It meant so much to me that he genuinely cared.”
Morgan retired following the 2018 season, but he is still a frequent visitor to the Stew and LeNore Hansen Football Performance Center.
“He’s special,” said Morgan, who recruited a lot of great in-state talent over the last two decades.
Campbell didn’t see action during Iowa’s season opening 38-14 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Aug. 31.
“I know my opportunity will come,” Campbell said. “I have to prepare and keep making the most of my opportunities.
“All the older guys have been great role models and trying to help me. I look up to them and it has been fun working with all those guys and picking their brains. Mentally, I’m a little behind them, just trying to look at plays how they look at them. They have been a great help and I give them credit.”
On opening day, before Campbell keenly studied game action from the west sideline, he soaked up the atmosphere in and around Kinnick Stadium.
“Kinnick is a different animal,” he said. “We have the best fans in the country. I was nervous, but now that I have the first (game) under my belt and I know what to expect, I don’t think there is an environment in college football like this place. It was a good experience.”
One of the top high school players in Iowa last season, Campbell helped Cedar Falls to a 12-1 record, with the only loss coming in the Class 4A state final. In that game, Campbell had 15 tackles, and a tackle for loss.
No. 19/20 Iowa opens Big Ten play Sept. 7 against Rutgers with an 11:01 a.m. (CT) kickoff.
“My goal is to be the best teammate I can be every day and work to improve myself every day,” he said. “Looking back, if I know I gave it everything I had, that will mean the most to me. When I’m a senior and when I’m older, just helping the younger players like (the veterans) have done to me will mean a lot.”