Campbell to pursue something bigger than himself at Air Force Academyf

Dec. 22—PRINCETON — While Princeton Senior High School's Eli Campbell probably has a better vertical leap than the average 6-foot-3, 290-pound offensive lineman, he probably can't compete in that category with his also-highly-celebrated Tigers teammate Dom Collins.

And yet, in the long run, Campbell may end up putting in more air time than all of his Princeton teammates combined. Up in the sky. Like an Iron Giant, looking out for us all.

On Wednesday, Campbell signed to play out his college football career at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. When he graduates, he will have a BS degree and be commissioned as a second lieutenant, after which he'll begin to fulfill his commitment of a minimum five years of military service.

"I have a strong passion for aviation. I was a member of the Civil Air Patrol for several years. I got a good taste of aviation there. A lot of my family has flown," Campbell said.

"I'm definitely hoping I can get into aviation, but there's a lot of other opportunities at the Academy that really set you up for life," he said.

The A-10 'Warthog' is the combat aircraft Campbell had long dreamed of piloting, but the Air Force is apparently phasing out that durable and long-serving aircraft. On the other hand, a C-130 'Hercules' sounds like an aircraft custom built for an XXL aircrew member. It has also been around a long time and has an illustrious — if not glamorous — service record.

Ultimately, what carries Campbell into the Wild Blue Yonder is less important to him than getting a shot at earning those wings, Whatever the aircraft. Whatever the job.

"They say offensive linemen don't get into fighter jets as easy as some other guys," Campbell quipped. "I don't know. I guess it'll be whatever I say 'Yes, sir!' to."

Aside from the exciting prospect of becoming an Air Force officer and all the adventure that can entail, there was another distinct advantage to signing to play with the Falcons.

The football itself — which routinely includes Power Five opponents —will be plenty competitive. But like the football programs at Annapolis and West Point, the high level of commitment demanded of Air Force players is more or less reciprocated by the Academy itself. Campbell was deliberately recruited with a more important long-term role also in mind.

Being a military cadet is certainly rigorous business for all candidates. He noted that his stint at the Academy will begin with Basic Eraining — a regimen to which all incoming candidates are subject. The usual result of Basic, Campbell said, was to take weight off. This means, for football purposes, after Basic he'll be challenged to put back on the ballast he'll need to compete for an OL spot on the travel team. That's the goal for his freshman season.

In spite of the intense challenges, Campbell's status as an athlete at the Academy will be a lot more stable than it might be at, for example, the University of Colorado. The Buffaloes saw a mass exodus of established players this season — perhaps the biggest in NCAA history — after Deion Sanders took over as head coach of the CU football program.

That's not something that could happen at the Air Force Academy.

"That was my fear about college football. Maybe I could get pressured into the portal. Maybe they're going to bring guys in [via the portal] that are going to be over top of me despite their bringing me in as one in development. There were some concerns looking at other places," Campbell said.

"The Academy doesn't have that. It also doesn't have the NIL deals. There are no redshirts. There is no early enrollment. There is no transfer portal. Maybe that puts them at a disadvantage ... but that's also a strength for guys like me and other Air Force commits who are ready to do it the traditional way," the big man said.

He noted that it has been an honor for so many college football programs to think so highly of his prowess as an offensive lineman.

Air Force was his first Division I offer. At the end of the process, he recognized that the Academy's interest in him as a prospective officer was the biggest honor of all.

"I'm glad they saw something in me," Campbell said.

"I'm glad I can be part of something that's bigger than me."

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