Yes, it’s been about X’s and O’s, and preparing physically for what lies ahead. But as John Campbell has gotten to know his new team – and vice versa – during the spring, the other emphasis has been on important nuances, such as approach.
“You’re going to have days when you don’t feel good, or things are not going your way,” Campbell told the SaberCats Friday, at the close of a grueling 100-degree practice session. “But you have to work through it, you have to push the tempo in those moments, we want you to not just survive the reps: we have to win the practice.”
That sort of attention to psychological detail seems to be what one can expect from Vela’s new football coach, a man with a glittering 98-42 record in 13 seasons. He is best known to Valley observers from his stint at Brandeis in San Antonio, where he led the team to wins in 78 percent of its games, including a memorable whipping of Edinburg North in the third round of 2009.
“That seems like a long time ago,” laughed the 44-year-old, who played ball at Jay in San Antonio and then at Rice. “Ironically, when I was playing for Jay the coach was Rusty Dowling, who had been at Mission, and I got to meet Lupe Rodriguez. He came up to visit Coach Dowling, and of course now he is the coach at P-SJ-A.”
Campbell, whose last posting was at Madison in 2016, said that the transition to life in the Valley has been easy so far, noting that the community and the administration have been very welcoming.
“When a coach is on the market, looking at jobs, he has some things that are non-negotiable,” said Campbell, who has college coaching chops to go with his outstanding high school resume. “One of the things I looked at here was the program, across the board, and Vela is very successful in just about every sports you want to name. Plus, it seems that the community expects excellence, and that is very important to me.”
Regarding the spring session that wraps up this week, the coach is upbeat. A crisp thinker and speaker, Campbell appears to be a driven type, intense and properly impatient; Friday he worked the practice field at steady speed, teaching and correcting, praising and raising.
“I think when you have the returning district offensive MVP and the leading tackler from a year ago, it’s a good place to start,” he commented. “There are a number of kids here we have been able to see – and get them reps – they’re the sort of kids who can fill in for some of the graduation losses and become that type of competitive, excellent player the team has had in the past.”
Campbell comes advertised as a defensive coach but has years logged on both sides of the ball. He said that the defense’s base 3-4 alignment fits in well with the personnel on hand for the 2017 season and beyond.
“Where is that fourth guy coming from, that’s what we want other teams to wonder about,” he explained. “We can drop eight or we can get some more guys into the box, it’s a multiple look and the key as we see it is the confusion factor. We can disguise our coverages pretty well with what we do, the package seems complex when you look at it, but it’s really simple if you execute it right.”
And as for his post-workout speech to the kids Friday, Campbell suggested that all things being equal, talent-wise, the approach the kids take could make the difference.
“How we practice is very important,” he said. “That’s why spring has been so vital to us, given the transition we are all going through. The mentality that you are going to get better every day, win the day; that has a cumulative effect when it comes to how you do on Friday night in the fall. The staff that was here before did a great job, a lot of these kids show the attention to detail, such as practice mentality, and now our job is to keep that going, and to eventually bring this program to that next level. I couldn’t be happier with the way it has gone so far, and I think we’re going to have a real good chance to be an excellent football team.”