I liked Calais Campbell the first time we met. You know that feeling when you meet somebody and they emit some kind of aura that’s instantly disarming. His handshake, his body language, how he looks you in the eye during conversation.
“I feel the same way,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann agreed. “When I first met him I knew he was something special. He can step into a room full of people and when he leaves everybody loves him.”
He’s engaging and gregarious, smart and thoughtful. Where’d that come from?
“From my dad,” Campbell said after his normal media time this week on Wednesday. Calais’ dad, Charles, died just a few months after Campbell’s high school graduation. “He’d make five friends just going to the grocery store,” Calais added.
The youngest of six brothers, with two younger sisters, Campbell has always had athletic ability and size. “I’ve been this tall since I was 15,” he said. Listed at 6’9” and 300 lbs., Campbell is one of the largest people you’ll ever meet. Reminds me of Shaquille O’Neal when he was with the Magic. Just a few inches shorter.
“Big? He might be the biggest guy I’ve ever faced,” Jaguars Guard A.J. Cann said. “He’s freakish in a good way. I’ll be behind him getting on the scale and it’ll say ‘300’ and he’ll step down and he’s cut. He has abs, he’s broad shouldered.”
But it’s his demeanor, leadership, and presence that are universally respected. His father’s early influence has stuck with him though his days at the University of Miami and in the NFL.
“I used to brag on myself all the time” he added. “My dad hated it. He said, ‘If you’re that good, you don’t have to tell anybody.’ And he was right.”
Campbell, an All-Pro and four time Pro Bowler, was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the second time in his Jaguars career for his play last Thursday against Tennessee.
Denver is Calais’ hometown so this week’s game against the Broncos is somewhat of a homecoming. He’s rounded up more than 200 tickets for family and friends and donated $20,000 from his foundation to Denver charities this week. He’s doing the same here at home, donating $20,000 a month to different charities in town based on his performance and encouraging fans and sponsors to donate as well.
“Success comes from a village,” Campbell said when asked about his community commitments. “I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way.”
“We have a lot of ballers,” said Tight End Geoff Swaim. “But Calais is much more than that. He’s a real leader.”
Swaim is a five-year veteran who spent four years in Dallas. He characterized the culture in the Cowboy’s locker room as “really good.” And says Campbell and Nick Foles, in different ways, set that same tone here.
“Calais says the right things and he backs it up with what he does,” Swaim explained. “Leadership is displayed in different ways. Calais is a great leader. He doesn’t show his emotions in a negative way. He’s human and that’s hard to do sometimes.”
“I try to be genuine,” Campbell said when his teammates words were relayed to him. “Talk it and walk it.”
“Super-human” is how his play on the field is described occasionally. Swaim has been a victim of that.
“I had him on one play in practice,” he explained. “It was a zone block and I got my hands on him in the right spot. My feet were right and I thought ‘I’ve got him.’ He saw the play and just extended his arm and zoomed me down the line and made the tackle. I looked at my assistant coach and he just shrugged his shoulders.”
“I just try and be a sponge,” Jaguars third-year tackle Cam Robinson said. “He’ll talk to me in practice about what he did and how I reacted and what I could do better. I’m listening because whatever he’s doing, it’s working!”
At 6’6” and 320 lbs. Robinson is big in his own right. But when he lines up in front of Campbell in practice, it gets his attention.
“He’s the biggest guy I’ve faced,” he said.
With 84.5 career sacks, 25 of those coming in Jacksonville, Campbell can get after the quarterback. But he’s equally effective stopping the run. Jaguars Head Coach Doug Marrone says he’s a complete player. “Couldn’t ask for anything better,” he added.
“He doesn’t hear anything on the field,” Campbell’s defensive line mate Marcel Dareus said with a laugh when I asked for something about Calais we don’t know. “At least he acts like he doesn’t hear anything. We call the play and he’ll say one or two things and then he zones in. I’ll be yelling ‘Calais, Calais’ about what’s going on and he acts like he doesn’t hear a thing. But then the play goes and he does the right things and I say, ‘OK, he heard me.”
I’ve said many times that Campbell is the kind of guy you hope stays in town after his playing days are over. He can have a real positive impact on the community. So I asked him about that.
“We love it here,” he said, “We’re splitting our time between Arizona and here mostly.”
“But what about staying?” I asked.
“It’s tough because my family is out west,” he added. “Some in California, a few in Denver and some in Arizona.”
Hard to say what’ll happen when his career is over but currently in the third year of a four-year deal, Calais is still playing at high level. No matter his production from this point forward, the Jaguars shouldn’t let him get away. The Cardinals still lament the day they let him sign here as a free agent for both his on and off-field presence.
“He’s had some players and their wives over to his place and his wife and mine were going to get together,” Cann said of Campbell’s impact. “I told her ‘I’ll go,’ just to hang out with Calais.”