TARPON SPRINGS — East Lake High senior George Campbell is an All-American-type kid — literally.
Besides being the No. 1-ranked football athlete in America and 11th-best player overall by ESPN.com, a preseason All-American, and one of the most-coveted recruits in the country, he maintains a 3.0 grade-point average, gets along with everyone, gives back to the community and wants to be a doctor.
However, the odds have been stacked against him for a long time.
When he was 5, his dad, George Campbell III, was sent to prison for aggravated sexual assault.
His pregnant mom, Joye Nix, was forced to work double shifts as a nurse, while going to school, and raising two children alone.
But no one felt more pain than Campbell.
“It was extremely hard during that time and growing up without a father. There were times I felt alone. But I knew I didn’t want to end up like my dad. It motivated me about what not to do in life and what doing the wrong things can lead to,” Campbell said.
Campbell needed a role model to guide him on the right path and fill a void in his life. Enter Nix’s brother, Ahmad Jackson.
“I watched George a lot while (our mom) was at work. Since I’m only 12 years older, I could understand him. We were together all the time and developed a strong bond. I consider him my son,” Jackson said.
It was a bond that tightened when Jackson introduced Campbell to football. Once Campbell acclimated to his unusually long and lanky size, he began terrorizing the youth leagues through his pre-teen years.
Then, at 13, a year before high school and just when his athletic career seemed promising, it took a drastic turn for the worse.
Campbell suffered a horrific leg injury during a game. The doctor informed him that he had broken his femur. It was an injury that required two plates to be lodged into his leg, with the doctor saying, “You will never play football again.”
“It was the darkest, yet most pivotal point of my life. It felt like the thing I most loved in life was taken from me. I couldn’t walk for a while, but I prayed a lot and took it upon myself to come back,” Campbell said.
But to Campbell, it was just a pit stop on the road to success.
A year later, he enrolled at East Lake, defied the odds and was back home on the gridiron after a long rehabilitation period.
Now, the towering 6-foot-4 receiver has blazing 4.35 speed with a staggering 38-inch vertical, is a crisp route runner and can score on any play.
His dynamic skills leave Pinellas County high school defenses scratching their heads. During the past two seasons, he has 1,561 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns.
Campbell’s athletic skills also translate on defense, where he has compiled 166 tackles and nine sacks at safety and defensive end. Campbell has helped lead the Eagles to two straight regional finals and a state semifinal appearance last season.
“He’s so humble, if he (makes a mistake), he’s the first one to accept blame. (With) a five-star elite athlete, you don’t always get that,’’ East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. “He’s so team oriented. He’s the only kid on our team that will play every game on both sides. He is willing to do whatever we need of him.”
But with all the attention surrounding him, Campbell still finds time to give back.
“I’ve always liked helping people. I volunteer at camps. Putting a smile on a little kid’s face at camps makes me feel good. Someone helped me as I was coming up, so I should do the same,” he said.
He visits his father at Hardee Correctional Institution once a month and wants to maintain a relationship with him after he’s released from prison in 2038.
Campbell also remembers who has always been there for him.
“I’m just extremely thankful my uncle and mom have sacrificed to get me where I am today. I never need or want for anything. They’ve never missed a game and both still plan to attend all my games in college,” Campbell said.
With Campbell decommitting from Michigan in December, his college choice is open. He holds 35 offers from top Division I schools. Campbell has said he won’t reveal his decision until after the Under Armour All-American game in January.
“I like helping people. Watching ‘CSI’ shows growing up made me want to become a doctor. It’s not always about football, and if I don’t make it to the (NFL), I want a fallback plan,” he said.