Before he spent nine years in the NFL, before he led Auburn to the 2004 SEC championship, Jason Campbell was just a small-town kid from Taylorsville.
The former Tartar returned to the Pine Belt on Saturday to host his 7th annual FCA football camp.
"I think we used to have two red lights and now it's all four way stops,” said Campbell about growing up in Taylorsville. “When you grow up in a small town like that, it molds you into the person that you become. Everyone looked out for each other. I remember as a kid if you went to a neighbor’s house, think you did something and got away with it, before you got home your parents already knew about it. It’s kind of like a community helping each other out where you raise kids together.”
Taylorsville may have a couple more stoplights since Campbell left for Auburn in 2000. Back in those days, the quarterback was the talk of the town. However, even he couldn’t match the impact made by his predecessor just 20 miles up the road.
A decade prior to Campbell’s high school run, it was Steve McNair turning heads in Mount Olive and running circles around his competition.
“Growing up in Taylorsville, I always looked up to Steve McNair at Mount Olive,” Campbell said. “He was always the guy that I saw that came out of there and played at Alcorn [State]. To see him run around with the ball and make those plays, I remember him running for the Heisman. We’re both from similar small towns. I said, ‘Man, if he’s someone that can come out of there and do big things, than it gave me a lot of hope that it doesn’t matter where you come from. It’s just a matter of what you’re willing to sacrifice and what you’re willing to take to get there.”
Nowadays, it’s Campbell who local kids look up to – namely Taylorsville sophomore Ty Keyes. In just his freshman season, Keyes led the Tatars to a state title, passing for 4,562 yards and 45 touchdowns.
“He’s definitely a kid with a lot of composure, a lot of poise,” Campbell said. “He throws a very, very accurate ball. He has good size on him. He’s just a well-rounded kid. His parents have done a great job of raising him. He’s level-headed and that’s half the battle. I just want to continue to support him and help him along the way in his dreams.”
“He just told me keep working on my footwork and how I throw the ball,” Keyes said. “He’s teaching me well. He’s shown me that he cares about Taylorsville and everybody around there. We appreciate him around there in Taylorsville.”
If Campbell’s journey to the NFL isn’t testament enough that small town kids can make it big, just take a look at Billy Hamilton – another Taylorsville native who is in his sixth year with the Cincinnati Reds. Another example of how small the city of Taylorsville is – Campbell’s father, Larry, coached Hamilton in basketball and football at Taylorsville High.
Perhaps, there is something in the water up in Smith County. However, it’s more likely a result of hard work and dedication.
“That’s just another example,” Campbell said. “A kid from Taylorsville goes play one or two years in the minors, next thing you know you’re in the majors. That’s why I always tell kids, there’s no excuses. You have an equal opportunity.”