On a chilly October night in Akron, Shelly Woodruff watched her son Parris Campbell Jr. – a four-star running back and Ohio State pledge – play a regular-season home game for the final time in his high school career.
The pregame Senior Night festivities – honoring a myriad of fall sport senior athletes from the football team to tennis players, cheerleaders and Irish dancers – were done with, but Campbell and a handful of other would-be starters for Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary remained on the sideline for the first offensive series. The St. V-M captains, Campbell included, had voted earlier in the week to cede their starting roles to seniors who hadn’t seen the field as regularly over the past four years.
That action, perhaps even more than Campbell’s third-quarter touchdown run in a routine 41-0 victory over Barberton, made Woodruff a proud mother.
“I love it,” she told BuckeyeSports.com, and her enthusiastic support as those players marched to an opening-drive score certainly backed up that sentiment. “Those players work just as hard in practice, and their parents come to all the games and cheer just as loud.”
Before the game, she spoke of how quickly the time at St. V-M had flown by and said that Campbell had echoed the sentiment. In a way, though, her son has grown up more quickly than his peers. Campbell is just 16 years old, having skipped kindergarten after teachers noticed him reading at a higher level. Just as he had in the classroom, he spent his entire career on the gridiron with older kids.
“I always knew he would do well in high school, and not just because he’s always played with the bigger kids,” Woodruff said. “He started playing football when he was 6, and he was playing with kids who were 7, 8 and 9.”
She said that she doesn’t get nervous watching him play. The same talents that led Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer to offer him a scholarship often make him look invincible, but his younger days didn’t come without worry.
“I’m never scared, but I was a little nervous about it when he was younger,” she said, “but I would always just pray over him and send him out there.”
Campbell first earned the attention of Meyer during his 168-yard, three-touchdown performance in the OHSAA Division III state title game last December. The Irish defeated Bellevue, 42-21.
Meyer and his staff were present for that game, but their efforts had largely been focused on Campbell’s St. V-M teammate Dante Booker, a four-star linebacker. The tailback’s dynamic showing put him on the radar in Columbus, though.
A couple months later, Campbell was at the Ohio State campus for a recruiting trip the weekend the OSU men’s basketball team hosted top-ranked Indiana. When Meyer issued a scholarship offer that was accepted on the spot, he listed Campbell’s youth as a positive trait.
“The day Parris committed, Coach Meyer told me, ‘I know he’s young, but he can play at a high caliber. He can go out there and perform in front of thousands of people, and he’s not worried about the pressure,’” Woodruff recalled.
Mother and son got a glimpse of that environment when Ohio State hosted Wisconsin on Sept. 28 in front of a sold-out crowd that included St. V-M alum LeBron James.
The enormity of the moment began to sink in, leading Campbell to reflect on just how far he’d come in the past year. One summer earlier, he was being recruited by Indiana, Northwestern and Akron. Months later, he stood on the field of a school his mother said he’d been a fan of since he was 4 years old.
“I said something to my buddies and they couldn’t believe it,” Campbell told BuckeyeSports.com. “I told them that it had just hit me that I’m going to Ohio State. Honestly, it did. Yeah, I had already committed, but going to that game, it really got into me deep – oh man, I’m going to Ohio State. It gave me chills all over my body. Just knowing that it was a dream of mine since I was little. That statement that dreams can come true if you work hard is definitely true. It was a great feeling.”
That moment was just as emotional for his mother. Although the pair have been on campus a handful of times since his commitment and attended basketball games, it was their first time at Ohio Stadium for a game since Campbell gave Meyer his verbal pledge. Watching her son interact with the other committed players on the sideline, Woodruff was overcome with pride.
“I almost felt like I was walking through the tunnel myself,” she said. “We went out on the field, and it was loud. It’s my son’s dream, but of course it’s my dream to see my son happy. It was an awesome feeling, and I can’t wait to be there next year.”
Once he gets to Columbus, however, don’t expect him to willingly give up a chance at playing time. His versatility in the Irish offense already has Meyer drawing up comparisons to one of his stars at Florida.
“Urban Meyer told me he wants to use me like Percy Harvin at Florida, so I’m thinking slot position,” he said. “I have no problem with that at all. As long as I’m on the field, I’ll play any position. It put a smile on my face to hear that.”