Playing football for Tennessee always means a lot to those who grew up in the Volunteer State.
Especially when a five-year detour is involved.
Sixth-year senior kicker Charles Campbell grew up in Jackson but spent the last five years competing in the Big Ten at Indiana University. The 5-foot-9, 181-pounder transferred closer to home this past December for his final college go-around and was able to go through Orange Bowl practices and spring workouts.
"I have a ton of pride in being here," Campbell said in a recent news conference. "I grew up wanting to go here. My sister (Mimi) just enrolled here a few days ago, and I have a little brother (Jon Alex) who's a sophomore here. My mom went to college here, so I get to represent my family.
"I just couldn't be more honored to represent my home state and finish out my career here."
The Vols had Tuesday off and will resume practices Wednesday and work through Saturday.
Campbell has the task of replacing Chase McGrath, whose 40-yard field goal as time expired against Alabama was Tennessee's most meaningful kick of this generation given that the 52-49 victory by the Vols ended a 15-game series winning streak by the Crimson Tide. McGrath was an impressive 16-of-20 on field-goal tries (80.0%) last season, but Campbell has produced some solid numbers of his own.
Possessing a 39-for-51 career ledger on field-goal attempts (76.5%) and having never missed on 73 extra-point tries, Campbell should maintain the consistency that McGrath provided. Campbell could also give coach Josh Heupel and special teams coordinator Mike Ekeler reason to attempt longer kicks after making five attempts for the Hoosiers from 50 yards or longer.
Campbell had the Big Ten's longest field goals during both the 2020 (53 yards versus Ole Miss) and 2021 (55 yards against Maryland) seasons, and the addition of him along with the return of punter Jackson Ross and return specialist Dee Williams has Ekeler beyond excited about the months ahead.
"I love our whole group," Ekeler said. "They understand the importance of it, so the culture that has been created in this building is phenomenal on special teams, and it's only going to get better. The standard around here is to be the damn best, and we're never stopping."
Campbell is also vying with Josh Turbyville and Max Gilbert for the opportunity to handle kickoffs.
As a high school senior at the University School of Jackson in 2017, Campbell was named a TSSAA Mr. Football finalist. Though his dream has been to kick inside Neyland Stadium, his first occasion to perform for the Vols will be Sept. 2 inside Nashville's Nissan Stadium, which is 130 miles east of where he grew up.
"I'm going to have a lot of people coming," Campbell said. "I've had a lot of people tell me that they're coming, and I'm just super excited. Nashville is only two hours away from home, so it's kind of like a homecoming for me.
"I'm super excited about it."
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