JACKSONVILLE – Rookie cornerback Tyson Campbell is a high draft pick at a premium position from a Southeastern Conference school with a huge following in North Florida – a second-round selection from the University of Georgia. Still, until a mock game this past Sunday at TIAA Bank Field he went largely unnoticed – despite a prototypical frame and speed that lets him play with incredible confidence despite youth and inexperience. The arrival of a future College Football Hall of Fame college coach making the jump to professional football – and the most-heralded draft choice in franchise history – certainly has something to do with it, or maybe free-agent cornerback Shaq Griffin has sucked up all the oxygen in the secondary? Whatever the reason, Campbell – like rookie safety Andre Cisco, rookie running back Travis Etienne Jr. and rookie tackle Walker Little – is starting to play to his billing and has the look of a young player who is going to play a significant role in his first NFL season. Here is senior correspondent Brian Sexton's recent conversation with Campbell:
Question: You had to navigate COVID-19 in your final season in college and your first season in the NFL. What was that like at the University of Georgia and how is it different a year later in Jacksonville?
Answer: It has been different, especially last year during the college football season. We weren't really able to be around campus and all that kind of thing. We went to practice and then went straight home because of the virus so we didn't affect the team. It was definitely different: class was virtual, a lot of things were virtual. So, it's a big difference this season. I think it's very important to be around your teammates and to interact with them and your coaches. That's who you're going to be around the most during the season and that brings a lot of camaraderie around the whole building, and I think we have that here.
Q: Culture has been a big topic since Head Coach Urban Meyer arrived in Jacksonville. You played in a college football program at Georgia that had a strong culture that Head Coach Kirby Smart built in part from his experience at Alabama. What have you seen of the culture in this organization since you arrived in Jacksonville?
A: I could tell right from the jump that Coach Meyer wants a whole new culture to this ball club, and everyone is buying in. He's bringing a winning culture because he has a history of success wherever he has been. Coming from the University of Georgia, winning a lot of games and playing in a lot of big-time football games, you learn what it takes to win consistently and the grind it takes to earn those wins. Everyone has to be on the same page and working together as a team. Everything Coach Meyer is doing I've already known because I came from Georgia, and we had a high standard for players and coaches. I want to help him build that same culture here.
Q: You've won everywhere you've been, including a pair of state championships at American Heritage High School in Plantation, Florida. What did that experience teach you about what it takes to be a winner?
A: Being a winner means having a certain set of expectations and living to a certain standard. So, each and every time I step onto the field, I have to live up to that standard to be my best and to play my best. I think that's carried over from high school to college. I still have the expectations that I needed to be a part of winning state championships and those don't change. Winning is winning and I hold myself to those standards wherever I am.
Q: Your high school experience could be a book or a movie. You win the state championship twice, your head coach and your position coach both played professionally – and your buddy signs with Alabama and you signed with Georgia. Oh, and you are both selected in the first 33 picks of the NFL Draft. How important are Patrick Surtain and his son, Patrick Surtain II, to Tyson Campbell?
A: My senior year was very boring. No one wanted to throw at Pat or me. Coach Pat and Chad Wilson had a long history of being in the NFL. That meant they had a lot to teach us, and I took it all in at a very young age. That helped us get ahead of a lot of cornerbacks at that time. Pat is a close friend of mine and we always pushed each other and brought out the best in each other – and even though he's not on my team I'm still rooting for him, and he still roots for me. Draft night was surreal, because it felt like just yesterday we won the state championship and now we've accomplished a lifelong goal of ours. Personally, it was a numb feeling. It didn't feel real. I couldn't believe it. Still to this day, I am soaking it all in and not taking anything for granted and I know Pat feels the same way.
Q: How about five words that describe Tyson Campbell for anyone who doesn't know him?
A: Humble. Quiet unless you really get to know me. I'm pretty funny and I'm caring. I care about whoever is around me and people that I know – or people in need that I don't. My parents raised me to be a leader and not a follower and to treat people the way you'd like to be treated. On the football field I turn into a monster. I'm locked in and different. There's no friends or any of that. I'm a different person on the field.