Lyco’s Campbell trying to make most of LB switch

Brian Campbell fits right in as a linebacker for Lycoming. He’s not a natural linebacker, and neither are any of the Warriors’ three starters at the position.

It’s all part of an attempt for Lycoming to become faster and more athletic at the spot. Campbell fits the mold perfectly, and showed as much in the Warriors’ season-opening loss last week vs. Brockport.

The converted running back flew to the football, always seeming to be around the pile bringing down Golden Eagles running back Tyrone Nichols. He looked natural in the position, not at all like someone who had just made the adjustment to linebacker within the last month.

“He really proved to us what he can do,” Lycoming safety Tanner Troutman said. “Brian Campbell played a great game. Every week we have a defensive player of the week and he was on there.”

Campbell just shrugs his shoulders when talking about the switch like it’s no big deal. He saw it as an opportunity to get on the field a year after playing behind both Parker Showers and Craig Needhammer on the Warriors’ running back depth chart.

He tallied just two carries for 2 yards in four games at running back as a freshman. But he was viewed by the coaching staff as someone who would definitely be a factor at running back in the future.

With Showers set to graduate following the 2012 season, Campbell could potentially be the big back complement to Needhammer at 205 pounds, the between-the-tackles runner who moves the pile and grinds away the tough yards. The Hazleton graduate, after all, was coming off a 1,000-yard rushing season as a senior in high school and averaged better than 6 yards per carry for Hazleton during his career.

But a different opportunity presented itself during preseason camp this summer. Starting middle linebacker Kabongo Bukasa was hampered with an injury and there was a bit of added running back depth from freshmen Blake Bowman and Colton Turns. So the coaching staff approached Campbell with the idea of moving to linebacker to help add some depth behind Bukasa, the reigning MAC Defensive Player of the Year.

“I’m just here to play wherever they need me,” Campbell said. “I don’t care where they put me as long as I get to play.”

Campbell was the perfect player to try and fit into the mold of what Lycoming’s coaches want their linebackers to be. He’s quick, he’s athletic, he has a little bit of size and he’s fast to the football. Neither of the Warriors’ three starting running backs came to Lycoming as linebackers.

Bukasa was a receiver and safety in high school, as was Kyle Sullivan. Tyler Denike spent a year as a walk-on point guard at Division I Central Michigan before coming to Lycoming to play football.

So Campbell fit right into the mold. The Warriors want to play fast defensively. And in recent years when Steve Wiser’s defensive unit has been one of the best in the country, they’ve done exactly that.

That doesn’t change with Brian Campbell on the field.

“Any time you can take an offensive skill player and convince him that he can thrive at the second level defensively, if they’re tough enough, they’ll be really good players,” Lycoming head coach Mike Clark said. “That’s what Kabongo is and it’s what we think Brian will become.”

Campbell didn’t disappoint last week in his first game as a defensive player. He was credited with five tackles but was constantly around the ball carrier. He and Denike led a defense which allowed just over 2 yards per carry in the first half.

“It was a little fast at first. But as soon as you start making some plays, you just keep making more plays,” Campbell said. “Around the third snap, that was the first time I tackled the ball carrier. As soon as you get that first tackle, now you know how the speed of the game is and I was ready to go.”

Campbell will likely lose his starting position at middle linebacker for today’s home opener against Wilkes because Bukasa is expected to return from his injury. But what his emergence last week did is help create some depth in the linebacker corps.

Clark said the coaching staff can ease Bukasa back into the game instead of forcing him to play every snap in his first game back.

“It gives us a fourth really athletic linebacker,” Clark said. “It gives everyone less playing time, but hopefully a higher percentage of really, really productive snaps when they’re on the field.”