This article originally appeared in the Nov. 12 issue of Cal Kickoff GameDay Magazine
By Tim Miguel
It may have taken D.J. Campbell three years to become a starter and a leader on defense for the Cal football team, but his teammates and coaches have been aware of his skills for quite some time.
In fact, right from day one, some of his teammates, like Sean Cattouse, had a feeling there was something special about Campbell and that he would eventually become a leader on the team.
"Coming in (freshman year), I thought he would be the guy who didn't redshirt," Cattouse said. "When he was out there, it was like, `ok, he might end up getting a chance to play this year.' He ended up redshirting, but seeing him grow, he's exploded this year. He's always been the strongest, fastest and most athletic. This year, it just all came together with the mental aspect. He's taking it in stride and running with it."
Campbell, a native of North Las Vegas, Nev., said he has not felt any of the pressure that comes with being a key contributor. He said you don't have to have the label of being a senior to be a leader. He expects the younger players to lead and perform just as much as he does.
Perhaps Campbell has high expectations for the younger players because he had to grow up fast right when he arrived at Cal as a freshman.
During his first day of class in his first Summer Bridge sessions, Campbell got some terrible news that made him realize that things were going to get more difficult and more real in his life going forward.
"One of my close cousins passed away. It really hit me that I'm in college now and I don't really have the funds to travel back home," Campbell said. "So that was probably the first time where I realized things are really serious now and it was going to be a lot different."
Despite that unfortunate circumstance where he would have liked to have gone home, in general, Campbell does not get home sick. When he decided to come to Cal, one of the things he was looking forward to the most was all of the opportunities that California and the Bay Area had to offer. Plus, his parents come to every game. His closeness to family is what helped bring Campbell to Cal. Campbell's grandfather played a big role in hyping Berkeley to him.
"First, it was really the education," Campbell said. "Doing my research on other schools, I found that Berkeley offered one of the better educations not only in the U.S., but in the world. My grandfather and I never really had many serious talks, but the first serious talk we did have was about Cal. Once he found out I was getting recruited by them, he really heavily pushed me to come here."
Had his grandfather not talked him into coming to Cal, Campbell would have missed out on all the friendships he's made on the team and through his fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi. Campbell, who said those relationships are what he will miss the most about Cal, has shared many highs and lows on the gridiron with his teammates. His favorite memory they shared was the Bears' upset win over the Andrew Luck-led Stanford Cardinal in the 2009 Big Game on The Farm.
"When we won The Axe back in the last few seconds of the game with the Mike Mohammed interception, the camaraderie and the celebration that everybody had afterwards was unbelievable," Campbell said. "I don't think I've ever felt anything like that before."
Like most of the Bears, playing in the NFL is No. 1 on Campbell's list of post-graduation goals. Should the pros not come calling, he still has lofty plans in his future. He is currently applying and looking into graduate schools, hoping to pursue a career in clinical psychology for either sports or child development. He would prefer to stay in the Bay Area for graduate school, but he is more than willing to travel wherever he needs to in order to further benefit himself.
As for the remainder of the 2011 season, Campbell just hopes to leave a positive, lasting influence on the players he will leave behind. Not only is he interested in leading by example for this year's squad, but he wants to pass on his knowledge and leadership to the younger players for next season, as well. The ever selfless Campbell is always looking out for the future Bears and not just himself.