Barring some unforeseen disaster, Army 1st Lt. Caleb Campbell will play his first NFL game when he runs out onto the field Saturday for the Detroit Lion’s first preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a huge step for a guy that spent the last two years on active duty in the Army and far, far away from the world of professional football.
Campbell did a few interviews recently where he said he kept his distance by choice. While the former 7th-round draft pick had no say in his NFL dream being abruptly put on hold by the Army in June 2008, Campbell did make it a point to not even attend an NFL game while on active duty.
““I had a lot of opportunities over the last two years to go to NFL games, and I kind of just sat back and said, ‘You know, I’m not doing it yet. I’m holding onto this dream,’” Campbell told the Detroit Free Press. “It’s another story within my bigger story, I guess, with what’s gone on in my life. But it’s definitely going to be a milestone in my life running out onto an NFL field.”
Campbell is expected to get playing time on special teams and at backup linebacker against Pittsburgh. He’s admitted the that the transition from safety to linebacker has been tough. Coupled with the fact that he’s learning a new position, he’s doing so while playing at the highest level of the sport after two years away from the game.
“I came back physically prepared, but mentally it’s been an absolute challenge,” Campbell told the Free Press.
Hall ready “to shine”
The only other person at an NFL training camp who can truly understand what Campbell is going through is Air Force Lt. Chad Hall.
Hall, a 2008 graduate of the Air Force Academy who starred as a running back and kick returner for the Falcons, has also been out of football since 2008 while serving on active duty. He managed to earn a slot at the Philadelphia Eagles camp, and tonight he makes his NFL debut.
It’s been a long time coming, but like Campbell, Hall can’t wait to finally suit up in the NFL.
“2.5 yrs since my last time under the lights, can’t wait, time to shine!” Hall said on Friday morning on Twitter.
Despite being considered a long-shot to make the 53-man roster, the 5-foot-7 Hall has managed to impress in camp. He’s practiced at both receiver and running back, and is also expected to get a chance to return punts tonight.
Two days ago Hall made the “Play of the Day” at practice, according to PhillyBurbs.com. Hall managed to snag a long pass that had appeared to be overthrown by reaching out and grabbing it with one hand, keeping his feet, and then running away from the defensive back covering him.
Fans can watch Hall and the Eagles tonight on the NFL Network, which will air the Eagles-Jaguars game at 10:30 ET.
Garland expected to get lots of PT
The only other service academy graduate currently on an NFL roster is 2nd Lt. Ben Garland, a 2010 graduate of the Air Force Academy. Garland is using leave to participate in Denver Broncos training camp, but will be reporting to his first active-duty assignment later this month.
While Garland’s commitment means he has no chance of making the active roster, the Broncos do have the option of putting him on the military/reserve list to keep his rights. According to head coach Josh McDaniels, the team plans on giving Garland a lot of playing time Sunday night against Cincinnati to evaluate him further.
Garland, who qualified for a slot at pilot training school at Laughlin Air Force Base, has not decided if he will accept that position, which comes with a longer service commitment. If he decides not to become a pilot, Garland would be able to apply for early release in two years, just like Hall and Campbell did.
The Denver-Cincinnati game will be shown live on NFL Network on Sunday at 7 p.m.