STORRS, Conn. -- There's no doubt that UConn defensive end Marcus Campbell can run. In high school, he was a Connecticut state champion in the 100 meters with a time of 10.96 seconds.
But last year, his football career came to a screeching halt. He didn't take care of his academics, and that got him booted from the team.
"It was a big shock," he said. "Devastating. But I knew if I could get my grades right, I'd come back."
Campbell spent last year as a regular student at UConn's satellite campus in West Hartford, close to his home of Bloomfield. He worked out on his own, kept in touch with his teammates and watched the Huskies' games on TV.
Most importantly, he improved his GPA enough to get back, and he's been working out as a starter at defensive end this spring.
"I said to myself, 'If I ever do get back, I'll cherish it and not take it for granted,'" he said. "It made me want to work harder."
Campbell said he's still a little rusty and needs a lot of work on his technique. But head coach Randy Edsall likes his attitude.
"He knows he's gotten a second chance," Edsall said. "Sometimes kids have to get slapped in the face and have something taken away for them to understand how important education and playing football is to them. He's out here performing well and getting back into the swing of things."
The Huskies need someone to replace the production from departed senior Lindsey Witten, who led the Big East with 11.5 sacks last year. This spring, there are no returning starters at defensive end, because Jesse Joseph is out until the fall with an injury. Sophomore Trevardo Williams is starting at the other end spot, and like Campbell he can really fly. He was a 100-meter track star in high school, too.
UConn hopes their speed makes up for a lack of bulk. Campbell is listed at just 227 pounds, while Williams checks in at 224. Edsall prefers quickness on the edge, especially against spread offenses, and former ends like Witten and Julius Williams had lots of success. Still, those ends will have to take on some massive tackles during the year.
"It's all about staying low, using my speed and my explosiveness," Campbell said. "Those guys may be 70, 80 pounds more than me, but I'm up there with them on strength.
"I've talked to Lindsey and Julius and the one thing they really stressed was getting more flexible. so you can stay low around the big tackles. They're about 6-foot-6, and I'm about 6-3, so if I get under their arms I can get right by them with speed and quickness."
In addition to Joseph, UConn hopes converted linebacker Greg Lloyd can come back from major knee surgery this fall. Redshirt sophomores A.J. Portee and Ted Jennings should make an impact as well.
Campbell's career numbers are modest -- just 24 tackles and two sacks in 23 career games. But he's looking to make a leap in the same way Witten went from backup to star.
"I'm glad to be back," he said. "I can definitely contribute to the defensive line."