Bruce Campbell goes from life-threatening disease to NFL career

Bruce Campbell
Bruce Campbell spent a year with the Panthers in 2012.
Credit: Getty Images

Tryout player Bruce Campbell may be a long shot to make the Jets roster, but he was a long shot to live let alone attempt an NFL comeback.

Campbell was a high school standout in both basketball and football, but during his sophomore year he was diagnosed with Chiari malformation, a rare disease where tissues in the brain can extend into the spinal column.

He was told it was serious, he would need surgery and he faced a very uncertain future.

“It was going to happen, it was going to happen no matter what so I needed to have [surgery],” Campbell told Metro New York. “Basically — and I’m no doctor — but basically my spine and my skull stayed the same length as I was growing. And it needs to separate so the brain fluid can flow properly to my head. I was told I needed to have that surgery so I really didn’t have a choice.”

Campbell was told before the surgery he might never play sports again — right as colleges were beginning to show interest in the sophomore as a basketball or football player.

The surgery took place during his sophomore year and caused him to miss “a month-and-a-half” until he was finally able to walk again. But there were no serious complications and no red flags that would keep him from resuming a normal life again — including sports.

“I was able to come back and play both sports again, no limitations,” Campbell said. “That was great to be able to do that, to go on the field, go on the court and play. Just be a normal kid.”

But he isn’t exactly a “normal kid” — not when you are 6-foot-7 and 272 pounds during your final year of prep school at the prestigious Hargrave Military Academy. His father was college basketball star and NBA player Bruce “Soup” Campbell, and he certainly didn’t look or play normal.

The sports world was beginning to take notice.

At Hargrave, Rivals.com listed the offensive tackle as a five-star recruit and the No. 3 prep player in the nation. He went on to play at Maryland.

His NFL career certainly hasn’t matched the impressive numbers he put up at the 2010 NFL Combine, where he ran a 4.75-second time at 314 pounds in the 40-yard dash and rattled off 34 repetitions on the bench press. The Raiders drafted him in the fourth round, intrigued by his measurables, but sent him to the Panthers two years later for current Jets running back Mike Goodson.

He signed with the Redskins earlier this year, but was cut after failing a physical following shoulder surgery last year.

Despite the setbacks, teams didn’t lose sight of him.

He was at Jets minicamp on Tuesday morning, less than 24 hours after he got the call from the team. His agent called him around 3 p.m. on Monday when Campbell was in his Augusta, Georgia home.

On the call, the agent said the Jets would likely be reaching out to him soon about coming in for a tryout during minicamp.

“I was like, ‘OK.’ Next thing you know, as soon as I hang up with him, like seconds after, they call and are like, ‘We need to get you in here for tomorrow,’” Campbell said. “I was like, ‘Yeah, OK.’ It was 3:20 p.m. and they wanted me to take a flight at 5 p.m. I told them I am 30 to 40 minutes away from the airport but I was going to do whatever I could to get a flight as soon as I could.”

He ended up on a 7 p.m. flight and arrived at Newark a little after midnight. He got to the team hotel and caught a few hours of sleep before waking up at 5:45 a.m. to get to the Jets’ facility.

Campbell was on the field late Tuesday morning trying to show he belonged and that last year’s shoulder surgery is now a thing of the past.

“After what I’ve been through, this won’t hold me back,” Campbell said. “This shoulder surgery won’t hold me back. I’ve come too far to get here now. I’m too blessed. I was told I might not be able to play in college and I did. Now I’m trying to prove again that I can be here, that I can do this again.

“That once again, that I belong.”

Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.



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