ATLANTA — When Calais Campbell left Denver’s South High School for the University of Miami in 2004, he was on his own and had to make decisions for himself. One of the first big choices he made was to attend a meeting for Athletes in Action.
Nearly 15 years later, now a Pro Bowl defensive end for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Campbell is the 2019 recipient of the Athletes in Action/Bart Starr Award. Presented Saturday morning at AIA’s annual Super Bowl Breakfast, the honor goes to “the NFL player who best exemplifies outstanding character and leadership in the home, on the field and in the community.”
“For a tall, 6-8, gangly freshman coming all the way across the country from Denver, Colorado, Athletes in Action was at the school. I started going to everywhere they were holding meetings and found myself a home,” Campbell told the 1,400 attendees. “Growing up, my mom made sure that we understood and knew Jesus, and that was a big deal too. You go to college, you’re on your own for the first time, you don’t have your parents to take you to church or nobody to tell you what to do. You have to make a decision for yourself.
“I was trying to find my way and Athletes in Action being there really gave me an opportunity. I don’t even know how many people they affect, but I know it’s a whole lot. I’m just honored to be here and accept the award.”
The award is named after Bart Starr, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback who was named MVP in Super Bowls I and II. Nominees are gathered from the public relations directors of each NFL team, past winners of the award, the AIA Pro Staff working with NFL teams, and Bart Starr. Ballots are sent to each team and voting takes place at the same time as the Pro Bowl selections.
In his 11th NFL season, Campbell is a four-time Pro Bowler and was All-Pro in 2017. But he lists his work in the community atop his proudest achievements. The 32-year-old runs the CRC Foundation, named after his late father, Charles Richard Campbell. The organization enhances the community through the teaching of critical life skills to young people. Through sports, creative talents, vocational skills, financial skills and quality health and nutrition, the CRC Foundation helps develop young people into empowered and self-aware leaders for the future.
— Calais Campbell (@Campbell93) February 2, 2019
On Saturday, Campbell was quick to thank those who have come before him and helped him on his journey. And he singled out two previous Bart Starr Award winners: Reggie White (1992) and Kurt Warner (2010).
“Pretty much my whole life I tried to model my game after [White]. Now I’m standing on this stage wondering if he’s proud of me. That’s a cool feeling,” Campbell said of White, who passed away in 2004.
He then gave a nod to Warner, his quarterback with the Arizona Cardinals, who drafted Campbell in the second round of the 2008 draft.
“I had the honor of playing with Kurt in Arizona in 2008 and he took us all the way to the Super Bowl. That’s a ride I’ll never forget because nobody really believed in us. And he just kept telling us, ‘Stay inspired, stay together.'”
Prior to Super Bowl XLIII, Warner was given the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.
“That whole year I got to sit next to him on the plane for away games. He let a rookie come up and share, while usually the vets get their own seat; they don’t have to share. But because I was a little tall, those back rows they put the rookies in I couldn’t fit. He was great to let me sit with him. I’m honored to get the same award he got because I have so much respect and admiration for him,” Campbell said.
Campbell also thanked his family, especially his mom, Nateal.
“Mom I just appreciate you making sure that we knew Jesus. I remember being a little kid and being scared of the dark, or whatever, my mom just told me, ‘Nothing can ever happen to you as long as you’re covered in the blood of Jesus.’ That was real and it’s been with me ever since,” he said.
He also thanked his father, about whom he said, “I was blessed to have a great dad for 17 years of my life.” Campbell also learned integrity from his father.
“I believe that integrity really is having faith because a lot of times, people really get in trouble when they start trying to do things for themselves, they feel like they’re missing out on their blessings so they start trying to cut corners and do things to get ahead,” Campbell said. “And you lose your integrity and it really just crumbles your foundation. So for me, I think that integrity really is just having faith that if you keep doing the little things right and keep working hard and take your time and doing things with love and passion and hope, good things will happen when it’s your time.”
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