In order to fill his team with exceptional athletes, Akron St. Vincent St. Mary track and field coach Dan Lancianese often relies on recruiting high schoolers playing other sports at the school to his team. While he runs the scoreboard at the school’s football games as a volunteer, he scouts for potential sprinters.
When he saw then-high school freshman and current Ohio State H-back Parris Campbell, Lancianese spotted something special.
“I saw him in warmups and thought, ‘Damn, I’ve got to have this kid,’” Lancianese said. “I’ve been coaching for 40 years and his acceleration was phenomenal. I mean, it was incredible.”
It didn’t take much convincing to get Campbell to join the track team. He had been running since he was 5 years old. So, when the 13-year-old stepped on the track to run the 40-yard dash at time trials, Campbell blew the coach away.
“I saw the clock and I ran it three or four different times. He was consistently hitting 4.3 [seconds]. It was insanely quick,” Lancianese said. “Another test, I wanted to see how reactive his speed was so I timed him for the 20[-yard dash] and that was even quicker.”
A gym teacher at St. Vincent St. Mary, Lancianese has taught many gifted athletes, including NBA star Lebron James, putting them through basic drills. He remembers Campbell having a higher standing vertical leap than James.
Campbell’s former track coach said he saw the speed directly translate onto the football field. Unlike many sprinters, Campbell had the ability to change directions from side-to-side on the field instead of being a strictly forward-running player.
This year, eight years after he joined the Irish’s track team, Ohio State will rely on Campbell’s elite speed as they look to him to replace Curtis Samuel at H-back. Samuel, who now plays for the Carolina Panthers, led the Buckeyes in receiving with 74 catches for 865 yards and finished third on the team in rushing with 771 yards and eight touchdowns.
Though Campbell started nine games at receiver last year, he hasn’t produced nearly to the level of Samuel or other past top receiving options at Ohio State. Last year, Campbell caught 13 passes for 121 yards and took four rushes for 54 yards, finding the end zone once. The redshirt junior has never caught a touchdown in college.
Despite Campbell’s minimal playmaking experience, wide receivers coach Zach Smith believes the hybrid back can step into a much larger role.
“He’s always been a role player, always been a really good player, but he’s never had to be ‘the guy,’” Smith said after practice on Aug. 3. “You had a Mike Thomas, you had a Curtis Samuel. Now, it’s Parris’ time to be ‘the guy.’”
The Akron native understands that, in his fourth year in the program, it’s his turn to be the primary receiving option.
“Coach (Urban) Meyer always says it’s a rotating program, when guys leave, guys have to step up,” Campbell said. “If we don’t have anybody that’s of the same talent, if not better, we lose. The guy that’s in that room has to step up, has to make plays, has to be that guy.”
Campbell said he’s looking to have a breakout season, but will take advantage of whatever opportunities arrive.
Ohio State has done its best to feature Campbell’s freakish athleticism on special teams. Last year, he was honored as third-team All-Big Ten return specialist after he averaged the 27.8 yards, the 11th-most in the nation, on 21 kick returns. He will once again shoulder the load as the Buckeyes’ main kick returner.
Given Samuel and former receiver Noah Brown leaving early to the NFL draft and former wideout Dontre Wilson graduating, Campbell will be counted on to not just make an impact on special teams, but to be a threat in the passing game.