Iowa football team first leader Jack Campbell brings “double value” to Hawkeyes defense

Iowa linebacker Jack Campbell (31) celebrates with teammate Logan Lee (85) after a sack in the fourth quarter of Iowa’s 7-3 win on Saturday September 3, 2022 at Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, Iowa. (Savannah Blake/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Jack Campbell stood on a podium in front of reporters after his team’s 33-13 win over Northwestern, trying to deflect the acclaim for his most recent award.

Iowa’s starting middle linebacker had just been named a finalist for the William V. Campbell Trophy, which “recognizes an individual as the nation’s absolute finest for their combined academic achievement, football achievement and exemplary leadership.” Each finalist will receive a postgraduate scholarship of US$18,000.

“It’s an honor,” Campbell said last month. “But if I’m a finalist for something like this, it’s primarily my coaches, my family and my teammates. You just put me in this position to be successful in this way.”

Then the humble Iowa star realized he couldn’t quite belie the fame for an award recognizing athletics and academics.

“I think I can kind of take credit for the academic part,” Campbell said, drawing a laugh from reporters used to finding someone else to credit for his success. “But I do not know. … I probably had a little help here and there.”

It was just an example of the senior linebacker’s team-first leadership.

Head coach Kirk Ferentz described Campbell as an “extraordinary player” and “extraordinary team member to boot”.

“For me, that’s double the value,” said Ferentz on Tuesday. “That’s what good players do. Not only do they play well, but they also make the guys around them play better. He definitely did. … Whether it’s on the field, off the field, off the building, it’s not hard to like everything he does.”

Defensive defender Cooper DeJean has seen Campbell lead with “the way he carries himself.”

“If you’ve seen him on the practice field, he’s going 100 percent all the time,” DeJean said. “I think that brings everyone.”

Defensive coordinator Phil Parker had a similar observation in a Zoom media availability earlier this month after a particularly intense workout.

“Sometimes we want to slow him down and make sure we don’t hurt our own guys,” Parker said Wednesday ahead of Iowa’s 13-10 win over Minnesota. “Today was a very intense training session. … We friendly took it up a notch today, and Jack was a big part of the energy and the toughness.”

The senior from Cedar Falls has many awards.

Campbell was the preseason favorite to be voted Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in a poll of Big Ten newspaper beat writers conducted by Cleveland.com.

He is a finalist for the Campbell Trophy and the Butkus Award, which goes to the top linebacker in the country. He is also a semi-finalist for the Bednarik Award, which goes to the country’s best defender.

He was a semifinalist for the Rotary Lombardi Award, although he was not named as one of the four finalists.

Campbell’s portrait isn’t yet on the wall of Iowa’s consensus All-Americans, but that’s likely to change after this season.

“Jack’s not up there yet, is he?” said Ferenz. “I’m going to stand up and say he has a chance.”

Ferentz can’t remember every linebacker on the All-America wall, but he does see Campbell on the west wall of the great room on the second floor at Iowa’s football facility to match the others.

“(Andre) Tippett was a rare NFL Hall of Famer, and he was a rare guy in 1981,” Ferentz said. “But other than that… Jack fits into pretty much any group you can find.”

The award that means the most to Campbell, however, is not an individual one. It’s a team.

“The opportunity to play in the Big Ten championship last year,” Campbell said. “Just because in Iowa everyone’s goal is to get in Indy and win it. Obviously we fell short.”

Campbell will have one more opportunity to get the first part of this objective again and get a shot at the second part of the objective. A win over Nebraska would crown the Hawkeyes as Big Ten West champions.

Aside from the impact on the division title, it will also be a special game for Campbell. Unless he uses his extra year of COVID-19 eligibility, Friday’s game will be Campbell’s last at Kinnick Stadium.

Campbell will “hug all four of my parents” and “thank them for everything they’ve done for me” during the pre-game graduation, but don’t expect him to get too emotional.

“My parents already know this, but I’m going to enjoy this moment with them,” Campbell said. “But at the same time I know what I have to do and I know where I have to be mentally. So I won’t — I don’t know, maybe I will — but I don’t think I’ll be yelling out there.”

Iowa football “really just taught me the epitome of being a great young man in society today,” Campbell said.

“Focus on small things,” Campbell said. “Everything I’ve learned on the football pitch is little basics, discipline, details and I’ll take that with me to the real world.”

Campbell will “above all” take the relationships from the last four years away from him.

Fellow linebacker and hunting buddy Seth Benson will “be successful in his next moves, whatever they may be.”

Then there are the many others, be they teammates or supervisors, “who want to see the best for me”.

“I’m going to miss all these guys,” Campbell said.

Long before any goodbyes, however, Campbell will enter yet another crush at Kinnick Stadium after hearing “Back in Black” blasting through the Kinnick speakers, as well as a crush at the bowl game and maybe the Big Ten championship.

The tradition is symbolic of what Iowa football means to Campbell.

“Seeing that fraternity in a game every time,” Campbell said. “Win or lose, all together. I shot it from a different angle from behind just to see everyone.”

As the various awards recognizing leadership allude to them — the ones Campbell is trying to deflect credit for — Campbell’s time standing in the background of the team’s collective entrance is over.

“I kind of enjoy that, but now that you’re a senior, you’re expected to go forward and just show the young people what it’s all about.”

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