Big Rapids — Jayru Campbell’s troubled past has been well documented. Now, with a fresh start at Ferris State, the former Detroit Cass Tech star quarterback says he’s focused on working hard every day.
Campbell, who at one time had scholarship offers from schools such as Michigan State, Notre Dame, Alabama and LSU, is a redshirt junior quarterback for the Division II Bulldogs. He’s taking summer classes toward his major in criminal justice, working out in the weight room, and getting his timing down with receivers with an eye toward Ferris State’s first practice Aug. 7.
Campbell has bulked up to 210 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame, knowing it is important to be as durable as possible as a dual-threat quarterback in Ferris State’s explosive offense. He took a redshirt last season while getting acclimated to Ferris State’s playbook, also playing a key role on the scout team to prepare the Bulldogs’ defense for its opponents.
Campbell has come a long way since his days at Cass Tech. He assaulted a school security officer his junior year and served a 60-day jail sentence. He was later sent back to jail after pushing an ex-girlfriend at Cass Tech. He did not play football his senior year, and in November 2015 pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic violence.
Campbell’s anger cost him a chance at playing college football for a Power Five program. He was drawing interest from schools across the country after leading Cass Tech to consecutive Division 1 state championships in 2011 and 2012. Instead, he ended up at Garden City (Kansas) Community College for two seasons, 2015 and 2016. Now he’s at Ferris, and grateful for the chance he’s been given by coach Tony Annese.
“Coach Annese was one of the coaches willing to give me a chance,” Campbell told The Detroit News. “A lot of coaches saw what I did in the past, and I guess you could say made assumptions or whatever the case may be. Coach Annese is a real good person. When he was recruiting me, he said, ‘This is going to be a great story or a failure,’ and he’s done everything in his power to make it a success.”
'I'm not scared to get help'
At Cass Tech, Campbell was viewed by college recruiters as a quarterback with tremendous potential as a dual-threat quarterback. He picked apart Detroit Catholic Central’s defense in the 2011 state title game at Ford Field his freshman year, throwing for 240 yards and five TDs in a 49-13 rout, actually putting the running clock in play. Campbell helped Cass Tech repeat as state champ with another win over Catholic Central his sophomore year, but then his troubles began and he failed to find a way to deal with his anger.
Instead of playing for Michigan State, where he had committed, Campbell was forced to go the junior college route, and he made the most of it. Coach Jeff Sims took Campbell in at Garden City and Campbell responded by working hard both on the field and in the classroom. He helped GCCC go from a 3-8 program in 2015 to the national championship in 2016.
Sims moved Campbell from quarterback his freshman year to a receiver and said he had the ability to play at a Power Five conference school as a receiver. But, it never happened.
Now, Campbell is determined to reward the faith shown in him by Annese and Division II Ferris State.
“He’s done a lot for me,” Campbell said of Annese. “He’s been trying his best to better me not just as an athlete, but as a young man.
“Every day I come to work — there’s not one day I take off.”
Campbell takes pride in the fact that he is growing up. He says he’s not afraid to get help when he’s feeling stressed or overwhelmed. That wasn’t the case in the past.
“I feel best about myself with how — instead of holding stuff in and letting things build up, not talking about my problems, not addressing situations that I should have addressed — that’s where I’ve matured,” Campbell said. “I’m not scared to get help. When you have a bad day, maybe you need to talk to someone. So just reaching out for help and accepting it, that’s where I’ve grown the most.”
Campbell said he was sexually abused when he was 5 by someone close to his family, and he believes this contributed to some of his anger problems later in life.
He said he didn’t tell his mother about the abuse until he was in high school.
“Holding all that stuff in and knowing people would be judgmental – that’s probably why I didn’t open up,” Campbell says. “The only reason I’m saying this now is that I hope it helps someone else (other abuse victims), so they can go talk to somebody and get help. Because when you have a problem, instead of just brushing it to the side it’s better if you get help so you can get it off your chest.”
Though Campbell isn’t playing for a top Power Five program, he certainly is playing for a national power at the Division II level.
Annese has built Ferris State into a national championship contender. In fact, Ferris State is just one of five programs at the FBS, FCS or Division II levels to win at least 11 games in each of the last four seasons, joining Alabama, Ohio State, North Dakota State and Sam Houston State.
Annese had a dual-threat quarterback in Jason Vander Laan — now a tight end with the Carolina Panthers — when Ferris State was 30-5 from 2013-15. Vander Laan set a Division II record for rushing yards by a quarterback with 1,607 in 2013. He then won consecutive Harlon Hill awards — Division II’s version of the Heisman Trophy award — in 2014 and 2015, completing 65.6 percent of his passes for 2,625 yards and 27 touchdowns while rushing for 1,542 yards and 24 touchdowns his senior year.
Annese notices similarities in Vander Laan and Campbell — with Campbell having better speed and a stronger arm.
“Jason came here at 185 pounds and left at 240, was just a fierce competitor in the weight room and so is Jayru,” said Annese. “Jayru came here at 195 pounds and now he’s 210. I expect him to be able to run the ball just like Jason did. We have to have a versatile athlete at the position.”
'He's a good person deep down'
Annese believes if Campbell plays to his potential, Ferris State will have a shot at winning the national title. The Bulldogs advanced to the national semifinals two years ago.
Annese said his time as the head coach at Muskegon High School allowed him to learn how to deal with young men, some who had troubled backgrounds. He felt he would be able to work with Campbell, find a way for both to gain trust in each other. Annese is happy he reached out to Campbell.
“When I first recruited Jayru I said, ‘I want you to be our quarterback,’ ” Annese said. “But our whole philosophy was to let him battle for the quarterback job. He obviously has the capacity to play receiver. He redshirted last year, and I thought it was important for him to know our coaches and players, to also be engrained in our expectations.
“Last fall he played scout-team quarterback. You could tell one of his greatest strengths is his ability to attract people toward him and get people excited about not only his abilities, but their abilities, as well. Our team tends to gravitate toward him. Jayru is highly-respected by the players on our team. We have a big contingent of Detroit-area athletes who knew Jayru growing up, so that was good, too.”
Campbell’s roommate at Ferris State is redshirt freshman cornerback Price Watkins of Detroit Loyola, who says Campbell is a “good person deep down.”
“Jayru’s going to be a main factor for us to get to being a national championship team,” Watkins said. “We just need to continue to work hard. He’s got a tremendous arm. Everybody knows he has a cannon — and he’s going to run the ball. He’s a tremendous athlete.”
As for Campbell’s past, Watkins said, “He’s a good person deep down. A lot of people don’t know his story so they don’t understand him, but he’s a really good person.”
Campbell was ready to go and grab the starting quarterback job when spring camp started a couple of months ago.
“I’m a very competitive person and Jayru’s a very, very competitive person, and I had to tell him to chill out a bit, relax, because it’s spring ball,” Annese said. “Jayru drove me nuts in the spring, because he wanted the defense to tackle him live all the time. I think in the spring game Jayru was trying to run guys over, so they had no other choice than to tackle him.”
Campbell said playing junior college football helped him develop as a player.
“Junior college helped me as far as just competing — plus adding the weight and all the physical things I have done to better myself here,” Campbell said. “I feel like those two things combined have made me a better player.”
Campbell’s goal is to make it to the NFL.
“I know it can happen, especially with the support system that I’ve got here,” Campbell said. “Right now, it’s just about working hard every day, but I know I can get there.
“Whether my dreams come true or not, I plan to work hard every day.”