ANN ARBOR, Mich. - This may finally be Will Campbell's year.
The former Cass Tech wrecking ball arrived in Ann Arbor with much acclaim and fanfare five years ago.
His career as a Wolverine has been marred by waiting for the answers to a bevy of questions.
When will he reach his potential? Can he ever come close to hitting his ceiling? When will he play like the explosive defensive lineman that had the Michigan staff drooling over him as an overpowering monster in high school?
Things are different. Campbell is different. His jersey number and the name on his back is the same, but the man under the pads is a whole new animal.
This may finally be Will Campbell's year.
Light on the sweets, light on the feet
Campbell checked into camp Monday weighing 310 lbs. He weighed 356 lbs. when he entered college.
"He's got a great attitude. He's really become a tremendous leader of our football team in a lot of ways," head coach Brady Hoke said.
The key? Dropping sweets from his diet. Campbell said he tried the "no wheat, no sweets" diet, but that was too drastic. Ultimately, he knew his favorite treat had to go.
"Honey Buns. That was the toughest," he said.
Impressive, but the questions still need answers. The 21-year old is lighter on his feet and he has a sharpened focus. Consider his offseason a penciled-in response to the inquisitions, a rough draft, if you will.
"I had to step up, and this is the time to do it. This is my last go-around. I owe Michigan and these fans a lot," Campbell explained.
"When I was heavier, I had a lot of baby fat. I'm glad it's gone. I'm not huffing and puffing anymore. I can move left and right way better. I feel a lot better out there."
Sacrifice is part of the deal. Campbell knows that now. He says he woke up every morning in the offseason knowing what was expected of him and more importantly, responded to those expectations.
Fortunately, he didn't have to look far for inspiration.
"What was driving me? Of course, Mike Martin. Third round draft pick left some big shoes to fill. I've talked to him about his training camp, what he's doing. He told me what I have to do."
If Campbell's offseason is seemingly immeasurable, perhaps Brady Hoke provides enough insight into what he sees in his "new" lineman. Asked if he expects Campbell to have a special year, Hoke, usually reserved with his predictions, gave his endorsement.
"I'd be surprised if he didn't because of his work ethic, his toughness, and his leadership."
This really may finally be Will Campbell's year.
Teammates endorse the slimmed-down starter
"Will shows off his stomach more than I do," quarterback Denard Robinson said. "You can really tell he lost that weight. He didn't just do it for himself. He did it for the team. You can trust him, respect him for that."
Hoke said players told him throughout the offseason workouts Campbell improved his vocal presence, as well. Safety Jordan Kovacs said the team is genuinely excited to see what's in store for him once the season begins.
"I had to change a lot. It's not about me. It's about the team," Campbell declared.
If he can reach his potential, if he can hit that ceiling, and if he can dominate offensive lines like he did in high school, the answers to those nagging questions will be boldly answered. Brady Hoke is only hoping he comes close to displaying that in the season opener. One week at a time.
"It would help our team a lot," Hoke said.
He's already gotten a head start, dominating the first eight months of the calendar off the field.
Come to think of it, if he can do the same for the next four months, this may finally be Will Campbell's year.
Brad Galli is a Sports Reporter at WXYZ. Follow Brad on Twitter: @BradGalli .
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