INDIANAPOLIS -- Before he patiently waited for his opportunity to have a bigger role in the offense at Ohio State and before he had 90 receptions for 1,063 yards and 12 touchdowns during his senior season with the Buckeyes, Indianapolis Colts rookie receiver Parris Campbell was another athlete from St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron, Ohio, hoping to reach the professional ranks like the person who put that school on the national map more than 15 years ago.
That's LeBron James.
As Campbell had success -- first in high school, then with the Buckeyes -- the closer the two got. James, a big Buckeyes fan, would tweet about Campbell. Campbell would tweet back. Campbell said the two are “pretty close.”
That’s why it wasn’t surprising when James posted an Instagram story about Campbell shortly after the Colts made the receiver their third pick in the second round of the NFL draft.
“It’s kind of big deal,” Campbell said of James' Instagram post. “He’s always shown love for guys from the city. He’s never forgotten where he’s come from. ... Coming from Akron, everybody takes pride in the city, and the No. 1 thing he told me was don’t forget where you came from. I think it’s huge for our people back home. That’s something I’ll always have on my shoulder and carry with me.”
James might've used social media to talk about Campbell in a Colts uniform because Campbell’s strongest attribute -- his speed -- could make him a big-play threat in the NFL.
The Colts have been searching for a No. 2 receiver to go with T.Y. Hilton since Reggie Wayne left the team after the 2014 season. The likes of Andre Johnson, Donte Moncrief, Kamar Aiken and Ryan Grant have tried -- and failed -- to establish themselves in that role. Now Campbell, along with free-agent addition Devin Funchess, will get a crack at it.
“The first time I saw him on film ... Paris was the one guy that really jumped off the tape to me,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Just his explosiveness. Playing in the slot, you see all the things he can do, but I really saw some abilities in him that I thought translate and make him not just a slot receiver.
"But the 4.31 speed, the high character -- the intelligence and the high character is important because that has to be an unselfish room. We preach that all the time in that room that, ‘Hey, we are an unselfish group.’ So he will come in and will have to earn his stripes, but certainly excited about his ability and his character.”
Campbell had to wait for his senior season at Ohio State before he earned a showcase role in the offense. He went from no receptions his freshman season to 13 as a sophomore to 40 as a junior before catching a school-record 90 passes last season. Some players might have transferred after a slow start, but Campbell knew his time would come.
Gotta slide on em big bruh!! ✌🏾 https://t.co/nbX4UE3TtX— Parris Campbell (@PCampbell21) November 24, 2018
“Honestly, any player [would] say yes,” Campbell said of the difficulty of being patient. “But the brotherhood and culture that was there, I still had roles outside of the H-back. I played on the outside, kick return. So I was still producing.”
The Colts finished seventh in total offense last season with a healthy quarterback Andrew Luck in Reich's first season. The expectations are that the offense will be better next season, with Luck enjoying his first healthy offseason since 2015, being in the same system for the second straight year and having the entire offensive line return.
Campbell admitted that he was "kind of star struck" when Luck called him the day after the draft.
"Coming in as a receiver and having a guy like Andrew Luck is huge," Campbell said. "He’s a prototypical quarterback. He’s everything you want."
One of the labels Campbell wants to knock is that he is just a speed receiver who doesn't run routes well. Ohio State receivers coach Brian Hartline, who played in the NFL for seven years, challenged Campbell to get in at least 10,000 practice reps last year.
“You’re never a professional at something until you’ve done it 10,000 times,” Hartline said. “We believed that. We operate that way. To break a habit and create a new one, that takes time. He fought through that, and he’s done a phenomenal job at it. We always talked about being a technician. Don’t be just a fast guy. Don’t be a guy that does a lot of good things but can’t do that or do that. You have that speed, but how fast can you play? How efficient can you be? What kind of technician can you be and add that speed and finish your routes?
“We really just adjusted his mindset, adjusted his feet and adjusted his top-end speed. What does top-end look like? What’s acceptable, what’s not acceptable, and really just holding him accountable day in and day out. I think he thrived in it. Once he fixed the mindset, the potential was there.”
The homie say it ain't many of us, I told him less is more, it's plenty of us! 330 boys! 🙏🏾💯👑 https://t.co/NDukdzygSD— LeBron James (@KingJames) January 15, 2019
Hilton also was known as a speed receiver when he entered the NFL in 2012. But his route running is very precise, which has allowed him to thrive on the receiving end of many of Luck’s throws. It isn't a coincidence that Campbell’s locker is next to Hilton’s. The Colts want Campbell to be in Hilton’s hip pocket as much as possible on the practice field, in the meeting room and in the locker room.
It was obvious during the recent rookie minicamp that the Colts are going to throw as much at Campbell as he can handle. That means lining up not only in the slot but also on the outside and in motion, and there’s a chance that he could be a kick returner. Reich's offense is about attacking defenses in multiple ways. Campbell's speed gives Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni options.
“I think coming out of Ohio State, everyone kind of labeled me as a gadget guy,” Campbell said. “I look at it as a good and bad thing. A guy who can do a multitude of things. But being here and playing a little outside routes against man coverage, press coverage, is going to get the label off me.”
And probably get more social media love from LeBron.