FORTVILLE — Jimmy Campbell could feel the butterflies dancing in his stomach. The then-Mt. Vernon junior was about to take his first snap as the signal-caller for the Marauders football team.
After a leg injury sidelined starting quarterback Pete Werner in Mt. Vernon’s first contest of the 2014 season, the spotlight moved to Campbell, who received overwhelming support from his teammates despite never playing a single down under center in his career.
“I remember everyone patting me on the back and saying, ‘It’s OK, you got this,’” Campbell said. “It was really just a blur.”
That support led to a productive season. The Marauders finished 6-4 overall, including a 5-2 mark in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. Campbell threw for 921 yards (66 of 140) to go with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
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“We had a lot of athletes last year,” Campbell said humbly. “I had a lot of weapons around me.”
Those weapons helped Mt. Vernon average nearly 27 points per game in 2014.
Campbell, though, who stands 5-foot-10 and weighs 170 pounds, has played all over the field during his career as a Marauder. After not playing his freshman season and spending time at fullback and safety as a sophomore, Campbell was supposed to start at slot receiver last season before the injury to Werner.
DIVERSE SKILL SET
According to Mt. Vernon head coach Doug Armstrong, picking Campbell as Werner’s backup was really not that challenging. At a workout last summer, Armstrong and the coaching staff noticed Campbell had a strong arm for a receiver.“He (Campbell) can do multiple things as an athlete,” Armstrong said. “He’s just tough mentally and tough physically, too. He brings the desire to win; that’s the most important thing.”A full summer of workouts has allowed Campbell to build a relationship with his skill players, something the senior did not have the luxury of doing last season.
His main weapon will be 5-7 senior slot receiver Juwann Morgan, who spent much of last season on defense.
“(I’ve been) working on throwing a lot (this summer) since this is only my second year playing the quarterback position,” Campbell said. “Just mechanics and footwork and stuff like that.”
If Mt. Vernon plans to keep its scoring average up, they will need to find replacements for running back Brayton Shannon, who rushed for 1,014 yards last season, and tight end Dan Werner, who committed to Harvard.
“We are very raw,” Armstrong said. “When we hit the field Friday it will be the first varsity game many of our guys have ever played in.”
Campbell and the Marauders open their season against an unfamiliar opponent. Mt. Vernon, who usually opens against Kokomo, will begin its 2015 season at home against the Class 3A No. 8 Hamilton Heights Huskies, who are 39-11 under fifth-year head coach Mitch Street.The Huskies finished 9-3 overall and 6-1 in the Hoosier Conference last season before falling to Guerin Catholic 28-20 in the sectional final.
Guerin Catholic eventually lost to Tri-West 23-15 in regional play. Tri-West won the Class 3A state title.
“Hamilton Heights will be one of the toughest teams we play all year,” Armstrong said. “They are very experienced and athletic.”
In a balanced offensive attack, the Huskies rushed for 157.5 yards per game in 2014 while throwing for 137.9.
Senior quarterback Ethan Jones returns to lead the team. In only eight games last season, Jones threw for 1,208 yards (78 of 114) with 14 touchdowns and four interceptions (128.2 quarterback rating).
His biggest target, Purdue basketball commit Grant Weatherford, has graduated. In 2014, Weatherford played multiple positions while racking up more than 2,000 all-purpose yards (173.9 per game). His leading rusher, Jesse Kerfoot (688 yards), is also gone.
The Huskies defense should help ease the offense’s losses.
As a team, the Huskies collected 16 interceptions and 13 sacks last season.
But Campbell and the young Marauders will also need time to gel. Getting the underclassmen up to speed will be paramount for the season.
“We want to put stuff (championships) up on the banister in the gym,” Campbell said. “It’s bringing the younger guys up and giving them a culture (to get used to).”
The schedule doesn’t get any easier after Hamilton Heights visits town.
The Marauders will head on the road for three straight contests, including trips to Marion, Greenfield Central and New Palestine before returning home Sept. 18 for a battle with conference foe Delta.