No. 2 Ferris State says little about reigning Harlon Hill winner Jayru Campbell's mysterious absence

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jayru Campbell

Jayru Campbell, the reigning recipient of Division II football's version of the Heisman Trophy, didn't play in No. 2-ranked Ferris State's 38-10 victory over Northern Michigan on Saturday, and coaches and university officials are playing coy about the absence.

After the game, Ferris State coach Tony Annese was asked repeatedly about Campbell's status and gave limited information.

The first time Annese was asked, he said only that Campbell was dealing with "health issues." The second time he was asked to expand on the surprising absence, he said only, "I just did. He's got some health issues."

Previously, when Campbell has been banged up, Annese has specifically identified the injury, like the left (non-throwing) shoulder that cropped up last season. The injury required offseason surgery, and that was the reason he missed Ferris State's opener.

Asked if Campbell was still on the team, a school spokesperson told The News that he remained on the roster. Asked why he missed the game, the spokesperson directed The News to Annese's postgame comments from Saturday. Asked if Campbell was at Saturday's game in Big Rapids, the spokesperson didn't answer.

Annese did not return a message from The News. 

Campbell won the Harlon Hill Trophy last season and led Ferris State to the Division II national-championship game, a great comeback story for the former Detroit Cass Tech story who landed in jail while he was in high school for bodyslamming a school security guard. That incident cost him a scholarship at Michigan State, and led him to a community college in Kansas before he arrived at Ferris State.

Last season, his first at Ferris State, Campbell led the nation with 49 touchdowns, and also rushed for 1,460 yards. He led the Bulldogs to an 11-0 record in the regular season, and was named the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference player of the year.

On Saturday, Annese started a third different quarterback in Ferris State's fourth game, Evan Cummins, who threw for 79 yards and rushed for 83.

In the opener, the first game Campbell missed, Travis Russell started and was 15-for-24 for 228 yards and a touchdown and interception. He also rushed for 61 yards.

Campbell's first start, a 62-28 Week 2 win over Central Washington, was a gem, as he threw for 271 yards and three touchdowns, and rushed for 42 yards. His second start, a 28-13 victory over Ashland, was much rockier. While he threw for 246 yards and a touchdown, he also threw three interceptions.

In 15 games last season, Campbell threw just six interceptions, total.

This Saturday, Ferris State (4-0) travels to league rival Davenport (3-0) in a battle of unbeatens, and Annese is considering starting a fourth different quarterback — senior Jevon Shaw out of Farmington Hills Harrison, whom Annese says draws comparisons to another former Ferris State Harlon Hill winner, Jason Vander Laan. He won the trophy back-to-back years, in 2014-15, as a dual-threat quarterback.

"He's a gifted young man," Annese said of Shaw.

Asked after Saturday's game how Ferris State's quarterback situation might resolve itself long-term this year, Annese said, "If you know, you're smarter than I am and probably can see in the future a little bit better than I can."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984