Top recruit beats the odds

BOWLING GREEN, Fla. -- All eyes are on George Campbell when he takes the field.

He's the nation's No. 11 football recruit and has offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State and just about every other college football power in the country.

But one person has never seen him play -- and might never get that chance.

Campbell's father, George Edward, was convicted of aggravated sexual assault and burglary in 2002, when his son was just 6 years old. He is not scheduled to be released from the Hardee Correctional Institution in Bowling Green until 2038, according to the Florida Department of Corrections website.

"It has been tough -- very tough -- but at the same time, I have to make the best of where I'm at right now," the elder Campbell said. "By him being out there, I just try being a father from in here even though I'm away -- just by giving him good advice, through visits and through phone calls."

"It's the toughest thing I have to go through," Campbell said. "You look around and you see other kids with their dads and whatever, but at the same time, it motivates me because it's like I don't want to follow in the same footsteps. I have an opportunity -- I could be the same way like how he is right now but I try to use football as an outlet."

Even though his father has been physically absent for most of his life, Campbell still seeks his advice.

"I value what he tells me a lot," Campbell says. "There are not a lot of people that are willing to step in and give advice like that, so when he does it, it means a lot and I take everything he says and I take it all to heart."

Campbell's mother, Joye Nix, was just 24 at the time of his father's conviction and needed assistance to raise her young son. Nix turned to her brother, Ahmad Jackson, for help.

"That was the most difficult time in my life," Nix said. "What happened to his dad was very devastating. He was young when his dad left, and before that it was just George, his dad and myself, and we were very family-oriented. It really put a strain on me because, obviously, I didn't plan to raise my children by myself."

Jackson put his own life on hold to help his sister.

"My sister had him at an early age," Jackson said. "I was still young, too; I was in middle school. She used to have to get to school before seven o'clock, and I would watch him until my mom got off of work. He was just always with me. Wherever I went, George was tagging along.

Campbell and Jackson are now virtually inseparable. Jackson has taken him on college recruiting trips and to various camps, combines and seven-on-seven tournaments around the state over the past two years.

"He's just somebody I've looked up to for a long time," Campbell said. "I spent a lot of time with him when my dad went away, and I kept spending more time with him, so, eventually, I wanted to live with him. So my uncle, my mom and my two little brothers all live together. He's like a father to me."

With his uncle's words in his head -- "I just tell him to stay level-headed and stay humble," Jackson says -- Campbell has thrived in the classroom and on the field, with a 3.0 GPA and countless scholarship offers.

"He does not act like a top recruit at all," said Matt Kopp, George's teacher at East Lake (Fla.) High. "He's a wonderful student. He's not the average student-athlete. George has a wonderful manner about him -- he's very respectful and he never misses class."

"From the day he walked in he's been not only a vocal leader, but he leads by example," football coach Bob Hudson added. " He never tries to get himself out of anything. There is never an excuse. He never uses anything he's had to overcome in the past as a crutch."

The remainder of George's story is far from over, and there will still be milestones and tough decisions -- college announcement, prom, graduation -- he will make without his father at his side. But positive influences like his mother and uncle have prepared him for those situations.

"So far, he's been doing great, and I'm thankful for that. He has his head screwed on tight, and I look at him -- he makes me very proud," George Edward says.

"It's amazing, and I'm like, 'Man, that's my son. That's my son.'"