Two weeks ago, Caleb Campbell was more unsure than ever about when his next opportunity to play football would come - or if it would come at all. The 2008 graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point was out-processing from his assignment at the Center for Enhanced Performance and heading west to a new assignment at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma. His training commitment would leave little time for a chance at the NFL without some good support.
After arriving at Ft. Sill, Campbell continued to train as if he would have his opportunity to play in the NFL while taking part in his military commitment. "When I got down there, I was really just focused on continuing to prepare for any chances at a private workout while fulfilling my military obligation," explained the former Army safety.
For Campbell, Ft. Sill turned out to be the perfect duty station. "My chain of command was very supportive of my opportunity from the time I arrived, especially when it came to scheduling time for any private workouts I would have the opportunity to take part in."
The wait for such an opportunity was not a long one. "Last week, my agent called and let me know that Detroit wanted to bring me up for a private workout."
Campbell is represented by Jimmy Sexton of A.R.M., who also represents Florida's Tim Tebow. Sexton has been working on Campbell's behalf throughout the process.
From that point, things began to move very quickly for the former Army Black Knight. "I arrived in Detroit this past Monday night, and arrived at Detroit's facilities early Tuesday morning. I went through a full physical, then had a workout. I ran the 40, I worked out with the head coach (Jim Schwartz), the linebackers coach (Matt Burke), the special teams coach (Danny Crossman), some scouts, and there were a few other coaches out there watching. I ran a great 40, I think I clocked in at a 4.49, and weighed in at 237. I felt like my workout went well, and from what my agent said, it seemed like they were pretty happy with it. They said I looked good and that I would be hearing from them soon."
Campbell returned to Ft. Sill on Tuesday night and was now in waiting mode. On Thursday night, the phone rang and Campbell got some news. "My agent called and said that he was thinking that we are going to get a contract , he wasn't certain, but that he thought one would be coming. He called me this morning and told me that he had a contract sitting on his desk for me from the Lions. I just found this morning, it's been a heck of a day."
It is the policy of the Lions not to announce or confirm the signing of any player until they are officially signed with the organization.
So with a contract in hand, now starts the process of applying to be released from his active duty commitment with the Army. As is required of any graduate of West Point, Campbell is required to serve five years active duty service. However, after two years, a graduate can apply for early release, pay back a large portion of their cost of education, and serve six years of reserve duty in lieu of the final three years of their active commitment. This is not a guarantee, and Campbell has just started the process.
As many will remember, Campbell's journey to play in the NFL hit a significant bump in the road two years ago. At that time, the Army had what was called the Alternative Service Option program which allowed graduates of West Point who were contracted by professional sports organizations to server their first two years after graduation playing for their respective organization while serving in a reserve unit, followed by the opportunity to "buy out" their remaining obligation after that two-year period.
The Detroit Lions, understanding that policy, selected Campbell in the 7th round of the 2008 NFL draft. Campbell took part in mini camp workouts and performed well. He was pulling into the parking lot of the Detroit Lions' facilities the day before training camp started with a pen in hand to ink his contract when his phone rang. It was his agent, and he called to let Campbell know that the Army had just reversed its policy.
And just like that, Campbell's NFL career was put on hold. The Lions released him and he would spend the next year and a half serving at West Point and participating on the U.S. Bobsled team.
And then this past week happened
So Campbell is full steam ahead, continuing his duties at Ft. Sill while completing his release packet and hoping for a positive response. "I have to go through my chain of command here at Ft. Sill and get this packet complete. The faster I get it submitted, hopefully the faster it will be approved so we can go on from there."
In terms of the review and approval timeline, Campbell is still unsure of that. "Once I have it completed and turned in, I should have a better idea of the approval timeline."
After being out of football for over two years, Campbell was very happy with his performance in front of the Lions' staff. "I was pretty pumped with the way I ran the 40, especially with weighing in at 237. That's the fastest I have ever really been at that size. I was really happy with that. It was certainly faster than I ran when I was at the combine, that's for sure."
While Campbell's time was a hand-clocked time, the 4.49 speed has him right at the top of this year's draft's linebacker class.
At this point, Campbell is hoping to be on the field with the Lions soon. "I am hoping to be able to take part in the first mini-camp, immediately following the draft. I have to be there for that. I would like to be able to get out there before hand, I know they have their off-season program starting up in the next two weeks, so it would be nice to be able to get out there and start interacting with the guys again."
While the details of what Campbell will need to do militarily have not been ironed out at this point, he is excited about being able to play in the NFL and serve the U.S. Army at the same time. If he is approved, he will still serve in the reserves while playing for the Lions.
"If my packet gets approved, I will be off active duty in the Army and will enter into the Reserves in Detroit. I am really looking forward to being able to serve the Army while I play football. With the news starting to circulate today, I have already had some soldiers reach out to me. I am really hoping that I can reach some people through the Army that I would not normally be able to, but because of this special opportunity will be able to. I am really looking forward to it.
While Campbell was open to any offers that may have come his way, and while the Miami Dolphins showed some interest, Campbell feels that Detroit is where he needed to be and is happy to be going there. "I am really happy that I am getting the opportunity with Detroit again. I definitely wanted to go back to where it all started, I wanted to go back to the team that drafted me. I think it is a great opportunity and I am really excited. I am definitely blessed that this situation has come up the way it has."
There will be a lot of eyes on Campbell over the coming months. GoBlackKnights.com will continue to keep you up to date on Campbell's progress as it happens.