What if I told you that a walk-on would become perhaps the greatest quarterback to ever to don on the Green & Gold football uniform — would you believe me? Well that same player also led the Tribe to a school-record 11 wins en route to becoming the first, and the only, Tribe player to ever be awarded the Walter Payton Award, annually given to the Top Offensive Player in I-AA. So whom are we talking about? None other than 2005 W&M graduate Lang Campbell.
In 2004, Campbell led the Tribe in capturing not only an Atlantic-10 league title, but also its first appearance in the NCAA National Semi-Finals. That year, Campbell set multiple school records for passing yards, total offense, passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, and passing yards per game. He also set an NCAA record by finishing the year by throwing just 1 INT in his last 326 pass attempts (that’s a 0.31 interception percentage) — are you kidding me? Oh, and he also threw for 3,988 passing yards (65.5% completion rate), 30 TDs, while rushing for 317 yards and 8 rushing touchdowns that season. No big deal.
We at the W&M Sports Blog were lucky enough to score an interview with Lang, due to nothing other than sheer dumb luck by running into him in the Washington, D.C. area. So as fate would have it, we asked him for an interview — and we’re glad he agreed. To put a bow on what was otherwise a forgettable 2017 W&M Football season, enjoy our exclusive interview with William & Mary Tribe football legend, Lang Campbell. Roll Tribe Roll.
Before arriving to Williamsburg
You had quite the high school career, lettering in football, basketball, and baseball. In fact, you were named the Winchester Star Player of the Year in basketball, not football. That being said, what made you choose Football as the sport you wanted to play in college?
“Ahhh…the good ol’ glory days of high school sports. I missed out on Player of the Year in Football because a guy from Musselman High School in West Virginia was going to WVU to play and was the West Virginia State player of the year as well – tough to beat. He was a great guy, really good athlete, and unfortunately had to quit playing due to a heart defect. Anyways…..Basketball was always my first love. I played football strictly to stay in shape for basketball and baseball was just something I did for fun. I chose football, essentially, because it gave me more opportunity to get a scholarship. One of the main reasons I chose W&M was because they gave me the chance to play both basketball and football my freshman year. It made for a long year but it was a lot of fun. After that, Football came through with a scholarship so I stuck with it.”
We all know you were a QB for your high school football team, but what positions did you play in both Basketball and Baseball?
“I played every position in Basketball at one point or another (often within the same game), but I was mainly a shooting guard. Baseball I was mainly shortstop but pitched as well.”
Time at William & Mary
Why did you choose to attend the College of William & Mary?
“W&M provided the best education while giving me the opportunity to play sports. I knew I wanted to stay in Virginia because the cost was so much lower as a resident and W&M’s academic/athletic combination was/is almost impossible to beat. Plus I couldn’t see myself at UVA without athletics so the choice was sort of made for me.”
Since W&M is known for its academics, we have to ask: What was your major, and what was your favorite class?
“I was a double major: History and Economics. My two favorite classes were African American History – Reconstruction to Civil Rights (Professor Ely) and History and Memory (Professor Corney).”
2004 was a special year for Tribe Football. You led William & Mary to a share of the Atlantic 10 title and its first appearance in the NCAA Division I-AA semifinals. On top of that, it was W&M’s first 11-win season in its 111-year history of the program. What do you think contributed to this magical season? And what were some of your favorite moments from the season?
“We were just a good group of guys who all committed and bought into the season 100%. Delaware won the National Championship in 2003 by like 40 points so that showed us we could compete on the national level. I think that led to our focusing on a bigger picture. There are so many great memories of that year but the two that stand out the most for me are seeing students camping out at the Hall the night before tickets went on sale for the semifinal game vs JMU. One of my biggest regrets is not parking the car and going to say thanks to them – it was really cool. The other memory is after losing that game to JMU. My dad would always sneak onto the field somehow to give me a hug before I went into the locker room. The same thing happened after that game BUT the fans (largely the student section) noticed it and started chanting my name. It was a special moment.”
Speaking of the Walter Payton Award, awarded to the best FCS player in College Football, you won it back in 2004, a season where you broke William & Mary records for single-season passing yards, passes completed, touchdowns, and total offense. Walk us through that year: What made you successful? Were you expecting to perform at that level?
“I was never expecting to have that much success. I remember my first couple of years there I didn’t even think I was good enough to play at W&M, in general, so that success was completely shocking. I think the biggest thing that year was just the trust the coaches had in me and and the trust I had in the team. I knew if I gave the receivers a chance, they would make a play. We always picked each other up and were able to make a play when needed. The team, overall, never all played poorly at the same time. When offense was struggling the defense would pick us up and vice versa. It was a fun year.”
We noticed when going through the record books that you had a heck of a receiver in 2004 in Dominique Thompson. Thompson set W&M single-season records for receiving yards (1585), receptions (79), and second in touchdowns (13). What made Thompson such a dynamic receiver?
“Dominique had the ability to score every time he touched the ball and it was a lot of fun being a part of his success. He wasn’t a great receiver naturally and all of his success was due to his work ethic. He was a tremendous athlete but he worked on the little things which made him one of the best to ever play there. I remember spending countless hours the summer before the season just throwing routes to him. We were able to get on the same page and I knew I could trust him to make a play and bail me out when needed. My individual awards sort of downplayed how successful/good he was BUT there is no doubt in my mind that I would not have been an All-American, etc. if Dominique wasn’t the type of player he was.”
You are regarded by many Tribe fans as the BEST quarterback in William & Mary football history, having been the only one to win the Walter Payton Award back in 2004. Who do you think is the best William & Mary QB of all time, and why?
“There are so many great QBs to have played there, particularly under Laycock. From what little I’ve seen of those guys, and from the word of other guys (players, coaches, journalists, etc), I would have to say that Shawn Knight is the best. He had everything – big arm, mobility, smarts. He is also one of the nicest guys in the world. He called me before playoffs in 2004 to just talk and wish me luck. Great guy.”
Following graduation, you were immediately signed as an Undrafted Free Agent with the Cleveland Browns in 2005. Could you tell us about your experience with the Browns, as well as the Atlanta Falcons (2007) and Arizona Cardinals (2007)? What was the NFL experience like for you?
“Those were fun times and ones I will never forget. They were also extremely stressful and I never knew if that day was the day I would be sent home. I’ve failed/been cut more times than I can count at this point but wouldn’t change it for the world. Cleveland was unique because I spent the most time there (including summer workouts, etc). I always seemed to be an afterthought for them but the guys were great. Atlanta was unique because they didn’t necessarily want me at all. The day I worked out for them was the day the NFL told them Mike Vick wouldn’t be allowed to partake in preseason camp. It went from them filling a roster spot with a receiver to desperately needing another QB. It was a short stint with them but an interesting one. The Cardinals was special because I spent so much time on the Practice Squad. Spending every day with Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart was a lot of fun. Kurt was tremendous and it’s easy to see why he had the success he had. All in all, a lot of interesting times that I won’t soon forget.”
We see that back in 2007, following your stint with the Browns, you signed with the Austin Wranglers of the Arena Football League. Through 10 games (6 starts), you posted 1581 yards passing and 28 TDs (against 8 INTs) on 64.7% passing for a passer rating of 112.7, to go along with 3 rushing TDs. The following year, you would play for the Arizona Rattlers. How was this experience, and when did you decide to hang up the cleats?
“Arena was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on a football field. There weren’t that many egos involved and all of us were basically playing for the love of the game. Both teams were close-knit groups and the pressure to win wasn’t as high so we were able to have a lot of fun. My “retirement,” like most, was a forced one. I ended up tearing my ACL, MCL, PCL, and medial meniscus for the Rattlers in the second play of a game where I had a shot to become the fastest player in history to 80 touchdown passes. I still wanted to play after that but the next year the league folded and it was no longer financially rewarding enough to pursue when it returned. I was forced to grow up as it were. All in all my career was a short one but I had a great time with it. I still miss playing but it wasn’t in the cards for the long haul.”
Life After Football
What are you doing now that you’re in the D.C. area? Do you ever plan on getting back into football, and perhaps into coaching?
“Now to the boring stuff….I am an Employee Benefits Consultant. I work with mid-market companies to help build out and manage the benefit packages they offer to employees. I’ve been doing it for about 2 years and so far so good. I would love to coach one day but stick to lower level and, maybe, high school. We will see.”
Getting back to W&M: how have you managed to stay connected to William & Mary now that you live further away from Williamsburg?
“I have, unfortunately, not been able to stay as connected as I would like. There are a group of old football players here and we try to get together to watch games, catch up, etc, but life is making that tougher as everyone is so busy nowadays. I try to get back to at least one game a year and it’s been great watching Zable change so drastically over the years. I wish I was more closely connected and am hopeful that I can work back to it eventually. It’s a special place….”