Campbell emerging for Gators at defensive tackle

Florida defensive tackle Kyree Campbell (55) lines up against Colorado State in the Sept. 15 game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators beat the Rams 48-10. [Cyndi Chambers/Gainesville Sun Correspondent]

In terms of playing time and production, true freshmen tackles Kyree Campbell, T.J. Slaton and Elijah Conliffe were considered equals on the Florida defensive line last season.

At some point, though, Slaton and Conliffe were bestowed a nickname by then head coach Jim McElwain. The three defensive tackles were viewed differently from that point on.

While Slaton and Conliffe gained some fame as the Bam-Bam Boys, Campbell seemed to take on the role of Forgotten Freshman.

That continued into the spring. While Slaton and Conliffe battled for starting roles, Campbell sat out drills with an injured leg.

 But this is a story that has changed dramatically since then.

Campbell is no longer the forgotten one among the three young defensive tackles. He’s a starter now, been one for the last four games, while Slaton and Conliffe have seen their playing time diminish in recent weeks.

How did this happen?

“Just hard work,” Campbell said “Grinding. Extra work.”

And toughness. And being physical. And playing with relentless effort.

Coming out of the loss to Kentucky, coach Dan Mullen and his staff demanded the Gators become tougher, more physical because of the way they got pushed around by the Wildcats.

The coaches started looking for some of that toughness and physicality in practice, and that’s when the once Forgotten Freshman started standing out.

He’s been a starter ever since, and he’s coming off the best performance of his young career. In the Gators’ victory over then-No. 5 LSU, Campbell had three tackles, one for a loss, recovered a fumble, broke up a pass and had a quarterback hurry.

Campbell has begun to emerge.

“Always looking for tough guys up front,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “Always looking for physical guys.The guy has really good passion to play the game. He works at his craft and brings a certain physicality to that position.

“Anytime you can get a guy that has that size, that ability and has some passion to play the game and play that position and stick guys, knock them back and be stout, I think it’s going to help your run defense and your defense in general.”

Campbell’s productive and aggressive play may come as a surprise to some. Afterall, he was barely on the radar at the start of preseason camp after missing the spring.

But what he’s doing is no surprise to junior middle linebacker David Reese. He saw some of the same things from Campbell last season. It’s just that others may not have noticed because of that Bam-Bam thing going on.

“Even if you watch from his first season, he was still able to make plays, he was still getting pressure when he needed to,” Reese said. “We just had a veteran defensive line. And now it’s his time to come up. I always knew what he could do. We always believed in him.”

Campbell also has a strong belief in himself. That’s expected when you are a four-star prospect coming out of high school and your mentor is former Alabama All-American defensive lineman and current Detroit Lion Da’Shawn Hand.

Hand, the nation’s No. 1 prospect his senior year, and Campbell both went to Woodbridge (Va.) High School, and Hand took the younger Campbell under his wing several years ago.

Campbell now calls Hand his brother.

“He’s not my real brother, but he took care of me, mentored me,” Campbell said. “He really got me working on my speed, getting stronger and just the technical parts of the game, being able to read screens. Reading quarterbacks draws and stuff like that. You see where he is at now.”

Based on his recent performances, Campbell is now starting his own climb in his football career.

“Absolutely, (he has a big up side),” Grantham said. “He’s young, and he’ll continue to develop and grow. And we still have to develop him and work on some things. But anytime you play with effort and energy and have that physicality you’re going be able to help us in what we’re trying to get accomplished in our run defense.”

Being developed means having to accept coaching and putting in the time and effort. Campbell has no problem with that.

“I love to work,” he said. “If I’m not in the classroom or watching film, I’m asking my brother what to work on. I’m my biggest critic. My coach can criticize me. Even my mom, she won’t hold back. If I have a bad game, she’ll tell me.

“When it comes to getting better, you take it.”



  1. Think about the disservice being handed down all over College football. The great ones are the ones that know how to begin with strength and conditioning, and then coaching these young men into the best possible version of themselves. That is what we have now (again) that we have missed since CUM (Coach Urban Meyer). Yes I saw it and that is why I included his written name. We have a much better team then any of us thought we would this year, and that is something to appreciate now. I am going to go out on a limb and even state that we will upset Vandy in their house by two TD’s. GO GATORS!!!

  2. Good comments on the changes due to decent coaches, but in this case being healthy is another factor. Difficult to perform to your capabilities when injured. I expect the other two to be pushed by the coaches if needed, competition makes improvements.

    • in fairness, its more than just the head coach. our defensive coaches have been good for a long time, and that’s why we have a good defense now in part. they got us the talent. this is another 3 star, another upside guy. Champ and Mac’s defensive assistants had a good eye for these kinds of guys and they did give cdm a base to work with. maybe mac’s last year on offense, etc. was not up to the gator standard but mac had it going for a while and champs offenses were never once up to the gator standard.

      • also when a player gets an article during the year, that is not hype, they have done something on the field that deserves recognition, and mr. Campbell is a classic example, having really shown a tremendous work product that is helping his teammates get high accolades. double congratulations to him and his coaches!

    • No, no, don’t say anything, you will ruin the narrative that all the previous coaches were trash and all the new coaches are way better. I am no Mac defender, but the way ppl talk on these posts its as if the previous coaches were all dummies and didn’t develop anyone! For every example of a player that is emerging now I am sure I can find you examples from the previous coaching staff. Some players are just better under certain schemes, some respond better to different styles of coaching, some had a whole year to just get better, and you know what, some needed a wake-up call and having a crappy season can def help light a fire. Mullen and Co. have been great so far, but he is not every single reason for a players improvement, jeez! Go Gators!

      • I don’t think anyone is saying the previous coach”es” were dummies and didn’t develop anyone. I’m pretty sure everyone is reserving that title for Mac and Mike Kent. Anyone who allows the S&C program that was run here for the last few years, that was putting the players career’s in jeopardy, is the exact definition of a dummy. Mike Kent should never hold a S&C coaching position again. There’s no way to sugarcoat that aspect of the program with the difference you see in the players this season. They’re not getting manhandled throughout the game and are clearly much stronger than their opponents in the second half. You can probably throw Nuss in their as well with the dummy title. He may be good enough to coach a positional group for another program, but he should never be allowed to call plays again. Besides them, this program has had some amazing assistants over the last few years that did their part in developing players despite what was happening at the top.

      • Name an example of a player that was floundering under muschump that became a starter with mac.
        I have to agree with Joe that the trio of mac, nuss and the s/c coach are incompetent at best and dummies for sure
        There are too many examples of guys playing at a high level now that were lost & unknown in the previous regime

        • CO Jones, I would like to add to your list of the listless, Greg Nord, tight ends and special teams coach. A Mushflop hold over, Mike Summers, OL coach, was dismissed by Ole HeeHaw in 2016, deserves a honorable mention.

    • Vulcan,
      I agree to a point, some injuries just happen. But I think that proper conditioning and preparation can reduce the chances of some types of injuries from occurring. I honestly believe that some of the injuries that happened the last couple years wouldn’t have happened if the players were in better shape, which is a by product of good coaching.

      • Spot on with that willgator. There was easily over 30 injuries combined over the last 2 years of Mac’s tenure. I understand football is a strenuous sport and injuries are expected, but you couldn’t find another team at any level with that many injuries in such a short period of time, and it’s certainly not just due to bad luck. There’s no question that if you’re not training properly and strengthening the core muscles that are necessary to withstand the impacts of playing football, then you’re going to get injured very easily. It’s obvious with how quickly these players gained muscle and dropped body fat and how they’re performing in the 2nd half, that they were severely undertrained by the previous staff. What’s happening with injuries this season is the norm.

  3. I am happy for this season and I am glad that Mullen is the coach. But I think a more realistic view of last year is that we lost 10 players before the season even started. Look at the Falcons, they were considered to have an upcoming defense after improving dramatically last year. Then they lose their middle linebacker and a safety (former gator). Both were all pros. Now they stink. Georgia looks like a potential national champ. However, I think they only have 2 scholarship quarterbacks (2 very good ones) but what if both got hurt. I bet they would have a hard time making the top 25. Sometimes I think maybe we should rate coaches less on coaching football and more on keeping their players out of trouble.