The Ballad of Big Dave

In a way, you could say David Campbell’s life has been a series of near misses.

In the 1960s, Campbell almost missed out on a football career because he was tabbed as a clarinet player in the band at Dora (pronounced DOH-ra) High School. “I wasn’t good enough to play the tuba, so they made me march with the clarinet,” David recalls. “I was the biggest guy in the band.”

Because the players on the football team made fun of him, he slipped out of formation and started playing football by the third game of the season. David’s mother, expecting to see him in the clarinet section, wasn’t pleased when she noticed him donning a different uniform. She had good reason to be alarmed.

Later, David almost missed out on a college football career because no one recruited him. Luckily, Joe Baughn, an assistant coach at DOH-ra, begged Auburn coach Shug Jordan to take a chance on the six-foot-four, 205-lb athlete who, in addition to kicking and punting, played the positions of offensive line, defensive tackle, and fullback for the Bulldogs.

 

Then David almost missed his senior season at Auburn when he tore his Achilles. Fortunately, David only missed three games and was a starter for the Alabama game in ’69. The Tigers defeated the Tide for the first time Campbell’s career, a 49-26 thrashing at Legion Field in Birmingham.

While David was at Auburn, the doorbell rang at the dorm one afternoon. A group of sorority girls were standing on the stoop and wondered if a few guys might want dates to a function at the sorority house that evening. Had David stayed in, he might have missed meeting his future wife, Glenda, who was the first girl to greet him when he went to the sorority house.

After playing for four seasons at Auburn, where David garnered All-America honors at defensive end, he was drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the sixth round of the 1970 NFL Draft as the 133rd overall pick. David and Glenda moved into C’est la Vie condos in picturesque Hollywood, Florida, with high hopes.

But Campbell’s time at Miami was short-lived. Practicing with a stable of stars that included Larry Little, Bob Griese, Bill Stanfield, and Larry Csonka, Campbell was cut and put on waivers. Coach Don Shula eventually called him back, but by Christmas of 1970 it was clear that David’s time in Miami was over.

Returning home, David attended Auburn for two quarters before being picked up by the New Orleans Saints. Although he had a great camp, lingering health issues forced an early exodus. “I’d wake up in the morning and my feet would look like monster feet they’d be so swollen and so sore,” David recalls. “And when I reported to camp, they gave me special helmets, ‘cause I’ve got big ol’ calcium deposits on my forehead. I wore a padded helmet for about two or three weeks and my head looked like it had been put in a meat grinder. I woke up one morning and said, ‘you know what? I’m not gon’ do this.’”

So David loaded his car and set out for Jasper, Ala., putting the NFL in his rearview—this time, for good. David was so committed to his retirement that he wouldn’t even take phone calls from his former employer. “My daddy said, ‘New Orleans is calling you,’ and I said, ‘Daddy, I don’t even want to talk to ‘em,’” David said.

David found work in production control in Birmingham. It was one of those “sit at your desk and get fat jobs,” as David says, but he was good with numbers, and got so adept at his job that he could work arithmetic in his head faster than others could with a calculator.

Things might have gone on like this and David might have missed a coaching career had an old college buddy not have thought of him in the spring of 1972. Larry Blakeney, who played four years with David at Auburn, had just been hired by Superintendent of Jasper City Schools, Bob Songer, as the new football coach of the Walker Vikings. Blakeney needed to fill his staff, and David Campbell was one of the first names that came to mind.

“Blakeney called and said, ‘I want you to help me coach,’” David recalled. “I said, “Blakeney, I don’t care anything about coaching.’”

But Blakeney was insistent. David finally relented and joined his friend on the staff at Walker.

Three years later, Blakeney took a job as the head coach at Vestavia High School. Within just a few hours of the announcement, Songer installed David as the head coach at Walker.

The late 1970s produced successful years for David Campbell’s Vikings. Players like Linnie Patrick, Goober Williams, Paul Hale, Skip Roberts, and Scott Myers made Campbell’s job a bit easier. In 1977, David led Walker to the state championship game against Berry, but the Vikings lost, 21-0.

David also assembled a staff of assistant coaches who would become lifelong friends: Gary Borden, Pat Morrison, and John Sasser, to name a few.

David coached thirteen seasons for the Vikings. His large frame, curly coif, and gentle giant, country-boy demeanor made him a beloved figure in Jasper. During this era, there were some great teams, big wins, and long socks. The team wore shoulder pads wide as a tractor, extra long sleeves, and helmets sporting horns.

But David almost missed out on a post-Walker life that’s been filled with memories. Had he not have had a disagreement with school administration, Campbell might have continued as the football coach at Walker indefinitely. Instead, David resigned after the 1988 season and finished out his teaching career as a physical education teacher at Maddox Middle School.

At Maddox, David often sat his pupils down for life lessons, many of which are still ringing in their minds as they now approach midlife. To them, he was larger-than-life.

David also might have missed out on square dancing, had then-Maddox principal Glenda Crawford not have suggested he teach it in the early 1990s.

“I thought, ‘this is awful,’” David says of Crawford’s initial request.

Did you enjoy it?

“You dad gum right,” David says. “We had sixty kids and had eight different groups going. I had a good time. You know me and my wife even got in a little ol’ square-dancing club for a while. We talked about that for years.”

After retiring from public education, David found a second career of sorts, buying rental property and establishing a mobile home moving company. One of his clients was Carroll Boshell, owner of Boshell Homes in Jasper, whom David says is one of those “straight up guys.”

But the lure and aroma of the gridiron eventually brought him back to coaching. In 1997, David took the head coaching job at Sumiton Christian and quickly led the Eagles to a 9-1 mark his first season. Campbell coached at Sumiton Christian for seven years, leading the team to five playoff appearances and 50 wins. In 2015, the field was named in his honor.

David and Glenda eventually sold out and moved to Florence, Alabama, where they live today. David spends his time keeping up with his daughter, Amy, who is a physical therapist and Zumba instructor, as well as his son-in-law and grandson.

It’s clear that two things have made the greatest impact on the life of David Campbell: people and faith. David describes several people as “giants” in his mind. Herman Davis, David’s assistant principal at Maddox. Glenda Crawford, his principal at Maddox—“I mean, I loved that gal. She’s gone now, but she was a blessing.” Buddy Thorne, a fellow Auburn man and great supporter of Walker athletics. Carroll Boshell. Bob Songer, David’s superintendent during his early years in coaching. David’s father, mother, and siblings. And of course, Pat Morrison.

“We were like brothers,” David says of his relationship with Morrison. “A lot of times, people thought we were going to kill each other on the sidelines. We never came close to blows except one day when we squared off in middle of the football field. About the time I was getting ready to hit him, he looked at me and said, ‘Do you think I’m crazy, Campbell?’ We both started laughing.”

In terms of his faith, David hits his knees twice a day, every day. “Well it’s been my whole life,” he says. “The greatest decision, the greatest thing I’ve ever done in life by far—nothing compares to the decision I made to get down on my knees and talk to the Lord every day. That’s been the stabling factor in my life. It’s kept me from self-destructing. During dark, dark times in my life, the Lord has helped me through them. He’s walked with me through them.”

David Campbell will also tell you he believes in miracles. He says there have been five or six instances in his life where he’s witnessed a miracle. David’s mother had reason to be alarmed for him joining the football team because X-rays had shown that his chest bones were protruding. It’s a miracle that he made it through a SEC football career without incident. But the miracle that made the greatest impact on him, he did not witness. His father told him about it when David was twenty-five. It probably sounded something like this:

“Son, the day you’s born, you were born at the house down on the Sipsey River. The doctor come to the house. He said, ‘C.D. I’m not going to be able to save your wife and the baby. You’re going to have to make a choice’. I told him to save my wife. But David, when I heard you cry, my heart dropped because I thought your mother had died. When you came out, you were totally blue. You weren’t supposed to be alive.”

“That story had an emotional impact on my life,” David says. “I’ve got a lot to be thankful for.”

The near-misses. Perhaps David could measure his life by the way things would have been different had the road not forked. He could have been an NFL star, but he would have never had the opportunity to mentor young athletes as the head coach at Walker. He could have continued coaching, but he would have never shared life lessons with youngsters at Maddox Middle School. And if the Good Lord hadn’t willed it, David Campbell would have never been born at all.

But David doesn’t measure himself by the near misses, nor does he think too much about the “what-ifs” of life.

He’s just thankful he had one. 78

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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