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Front Page - Friday, August 25, 2023

Waffle House gets assist on recruitment of Campbell

Senior offensive lineman John Campbell Jr., an Orlando native, spent five seasons at the University of Miami before transferring to Tennessee. - Photo by Wes Rucker | 24/7 Sports

By Rhiannon Potkey

Offensive linemen are often known for their love of food. John Campbell Jr. is no different.

Part of Campbell’s decision to transfer to the University of Tennessee from the University of Miami was because of its proximity to a particular Southern culinary institution.

“They got Waffle House. That’s the place I like,” Campbell says. “At the U (Miami), there wasn’t really no Waffle House. It was like 40 minutes away.”

The 6-foot-5, 320-pound Campbell has been the leader for the starting left tackle spot during UT’s preseason camp. Unlike his Waffle House breakfast order, Campbell doesn’t want to see his quarterback scattered, smothered or covered.

The sixth-year redshirt senior has been working to establish chemistry with his fellow offensive linemen since arriving at UT in the spring from Miami, where he appeared in 34 games and played 1,352 snaps.

Having adjusted more to UT’s fast-paced offense, Campbell says he has felt more comfortable over the last few weeks.

“I’m not going to lie, my confidence skyrocketed,” he says. “Throughout the spring, I was figuring it out. It’s just schemes, football is schemes. We kind of run the same plays, but here probably splits are wider, fast tempo. … It’s been smooth, though. I feel like I’m going in the right direction. I feel very, very confident. I feel like I got my high school senior year confidence.”

After he entered the transfer portal, Campbell chose the Vols instead of Florida, Florida State and the University of Southern California. But his decision didn’t come without some reservation.

“I’m not gonna lie. I (initially) shot down Tennessee,” Campbell says. “In my mind, I was like, ‘I’m not gonna go to Tennessee.’ I wanted to go somewhere else. But it just felt like the right decision with the people.”

The Orlando native had familiarity with Heupel from when Heupel was coaching at the University of Central Florida. Campbell also competed against UT quarterback Joe Milton as high school rivals.

“We used to go on bus tours together. It’s just a great plan for having someone you know from high school. That’s one thing I didn’t have at the U, any of my guys there,” Campbell says. “... I just think it’s a good thing to play with someone you know. It just probably makes someone just want to go harder and the extra mile for that person, just have their back.”

Before he visited Knoxville, Campbell admitted he expected the East Tennessee landscape to be flat and was surprised to see the Smoky Mountains. The Southern hospitality helped win him over.

“Knoxville is a cool place. It’s chill,” he says. “It’s real different, like the people. In Miami, if you see somebody, they walk with their head down and right past you. But here they’ll have a conversation with you and see how you’re doing. That’s one thing I really like.”

Campbell hopes playing in the SEC can boost his draft stock. He knows he’ll be playing in front of huge crowds most weekends, especially at Neyland Stadium.

“And at our (Miami) games, there’s not a lot of people there,” Campbell says. “I feel like the SEC is a big stage to play on, and it gets my exposure up there.”

Filling in the gaps

Campbell joins a line that is replacing Darnell Wright, a top 10 draft pick by the Chicago Bears. The Vols return veteran starters Cooper Mays and Javontez Spraggins.

Mays had a procedure performed on an injury earlier this month, but is expected to be “back and healthy as we get closer to kickoff,” of the opener against Virginia on Sept. 2 in Nashville, according to head coach Josh Heupel.

Offensive line coach Glen Elarbee has been impressed with how much progress Spraggins has made since last season.

“I think if anyone will have the biggest jump in their tape, I’m hoping it’s going to be Spraggs because he’s been just unbelievable this spring, summer and fall,” Elarbee says. “From his protection to the knowledge of the game, to the leadership, just such a growth out of him. The energy, that guy is nonstop. Every day, he gets it going. There’s not a more energetic, juicy guy on the field play-in and play-out, and I think guys thrive off that.”

If Milton is able to excel and reach his potential, the UT linemen will certainly receive more attention. Their relationship with Milton keeps growing with every practice rep in camp and every off-field gathering.

“They kind of just gravitate to him, it’s built in,” Elarbee says. “If you are an O-lineman and you don’t love your quarterback and don’t protect with everything in your life and think he’s the world, then you’re in the wrong position.”

Campbell knows he’s in the right spot. His arrival at UT has been beneficial for everyone involved. The Waffle House workers will likely become very familiar with his order over the next few months as they help fuel his performance on the field.

“Man, look, I’m gonna get the All-Star Special,” Campbell says. “Or we gonna get a waffle sandwich. You don’t know about that. It’s on the secret menu.”