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March 27, 2012The crown jewel of Michigan's 2009 recruiting class, former five-star defensive tackle Will Campbell found himself floundering on the wrong side of the ball as his sophomore campaign crawled to a conclusion.
An immense talent coming out of high school, Campbell's weight, which at one point topped the 350-pound mark, hindered his mobility and technique when firing off the line of scrimmage.
With his capacity to anchor the middle of the defense from his nose tackle spot in question, Campbell was in danger of becoming one of the biggest busts in U-M recruiting history after a requested move to the offensive line was granted by former coach Rich Rodriguez and staff.
"I don't know what it was, but he just wasn't getting the job done," said senior defensive end Craig Roh about Campbell's first two seasons as a Wolverine.
Campbell has a better idea of what was impeding his progress as a collegiate athlete.
"It was probably me being so heavy, I decided I wanted to go to offense," Campbell said. "It was me being lazy."
A change of the guard in Schembechler Hall brought about a change in attitude and work ethic for the former Cass Tech standount.
But it wasn't easy.
"When Coach Hoke and the staff came in, they really just tore him down, kind of like they tore me down," Roh said. "Now he comes in and he is really positive, ready to work.
"His attitude is great all of the time. He is always ready to work, always ready to come in and motivate the guys. I think this season is one that he can really come out and be the guy for us.
"I see the way he works every day, and just seeing the kind of player he wants to be, it gets me excited that he can do what people always expected of him."
"Will is bringing a whole lot of energy, and not just with his mouth but with his play," redshirt junior offensive tackle Taylor Lewan said. "He's always competing with everybody, getting off the ball and using the right technique."
Campbell, who has worked his way down to a fit 315 pounds, has responded to the tough love mentality of Hoke and Co., and thrived under the emphasis put on the defensive interior.
"The coaching staff we have now, it's not just one defensive line coach, its three," Campbell said. "All of them are experts at this position so when you mess up once, you get yelled at.
"When you get yelled at, you don't think about it as much, but it's when you stop getting yelled at that you start to get worried. I would rather get yelled at than not get looked at.
"During fall camp, I was in a slump going down, but towards the end of the season I talked to Coach Montgomery, Coach Hoke and Coach Mattison. They basically helped rebuild me and I went on my ride."
Campbell has stepped up as a leader for a defensive front desperately needing one, holding offseason film sessions for his younger linemates and leading by example on the field.
"Will would lead the defensive tackles in sprints, he was always the first one," Roh said. "If you are always the last guy, no one is going to listen to you because you're not setting the example. I think he is setting the example."
Still, he knows that he must continue to improve both on and off the field to help U-M replicate the success of Team 132 in his senior season, and lessons from former Michigan defensive line greats, including Rob Renes and Brandon Graham, have been an integral part of his apparent late-career turn around.
"Rob Renes told me it's an every snap, every down thing," Campbell said. "He was coached by Coach Hoke, so the same things Coach Hoke is telling us today, he was being told - like go hard every play. You're not playing for yourself, your playing for your teammates and Michigan.
"Brandon Graham was super positive for me. He talked to me about his transition from inside of the line to the outside, how losing weight helped him become a better player. I just listened to him and tried to mold myself like that."
Ultimately, the most important step in the maturation of Michigan's top 2009 recruiting prospect came from within, and was driven by a sense of urgency as his collegiate career draws to a close.
"I'm just trying to step up and play to the expectation of my position," Campbell said. "That expectation is going as hard as you can every snap.
"I had to hit the switch at a certain time, and I saw my time coming short here. I decided it was time to go in my last season."