Ryan, Campbell Making Most Of New Chances At WVU
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Both of their paths to West Virginia have been star-crossed, the two transferred wide receivers, Sean Ryan and George Campbell, but each now is in a position to prove himself if Neal Brown and his staff can put the rest of their offense together.
Ryan is a sophomore transfer from Temple, caught up in the business that is college football after being that rare high school football star from Brooklyn, N.Y., while Campbell was a five-star recruit when he came out of East Lake High in a far more fertile football area near Tampa, Fla.
Their tales offer examples of why the controversial transfer portal became a part of the college football fabric, offering players a way out of a situation not of their own making that threatens their careers.
Campbell, a graduate transfer from Florida State, has arrived with a splash, scoring two of WVU’s three touchdowns so far this year after getting one final chance to prove the recruiting rating was not an error and that it was injuries that dereailed his career.
And Ryan used West Virginia as an escape hatch from Temple, which changed coaches not once, but twice, within a month after his freshman season.
Brooklyn is known for a lot of things. The Dodgers. Jackie Robinson. The Brooklyn Bridge.
But when you think of Brooklyn, you don’t think of big-time football players. It’s the city, man, but Erasmus Hall High School, down the street from where Ebbets Field once was located, is changing that. That’s where Sean Ryan played.
First, you have to understand that Erasmus Hall goes back to the 1770s and was once a great American high school, turning out a list of athletes, celebrities and authors.
In many ways, it’s mind boggling the list of people who attended the school over the years.
Barbra Streisand and Neil Diamond. The legendary actress Mae West, actor Eli Wallach, actress Susan Hayward. Authors Mickey Spillane, who created Mike Hammer, and Roger Kahn, who wrote ‘Boys of Summer’, the ultimate book on the Brooklyn Dodgers.
There was Oakland Raiders founder Al Davis; basketball Hall of Famer Ned Irish, founder of the New York Knicks; Sonny Werblin, owner of the New York Jets and Chairman of Madison Square Garden; Hall of Fame quarterback Sid Luckman; Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster Waite Hoyt, who was Babe Ruth’s roommate with the Yankees; NBA player and coach Billy Cunningham; NFL coach Sam Rutigliano.
One doesn’t think of New York City kids getting into football in this era, but Ryan’s father had a different idea.
“My dad got me into football. He did a good job of raising me,” he said.
There was a field across the street from where they lived and his father started a youth football league.
“My dad wanted to provide a better life for us so he started a team. The league grew. We just got bigger. He continued to train us and push us. I got everything from him,” Ryan said.
He played for the Brooklyn Bombers youth league team run by his father before finding his way to Erasmus Hall. They had become a power in New York’s Public School Athletic League.
Danny Landberg had coached there for 16 years and had won one city championship and been runner-up several times.
He cared about his players. Twenty-some years back when the neighborhood deteriorated, Erasmus Hall had lost its certification due to academics and was broken up into five schools in the same building.
Landberg pushed academics as well as football. He would show them the high school transcript of Chris Samuels, who had gone from Erasmus to Ohio State to the Carolina Panthers. It always made an impression.
“I feel like my high school, Erasmus Hall, they got me prepared to play at a high level,” Ryan said. “They prepared us like they were a big school. I worked my way up from the bottom. Coach Landburg, who was my high school coach, does a good job of preparing guys to play with players from Texas and everywhere, Miami and California.”
“It doesn’t wash it away, it puts things in perspective,” Landberg told the New York Post. “To be able to help these kids get out of New York City, have an opportunity to see how life is lived outside of here, give them a free education and not to have to worry about the debt afterwards, it’s one of the best things you can do.”
He was on a great team, seven players heading off to major colleges.
Ryan decided to play at Temple, but he wasn’t prepared for the real world to enter his life so quickly.
The coaching carousel was spinning rapidly. In 2016 Matt Ruhle left to rebuild Baylor. Geoff Collins was there in 2017 when Ryan was recruited and coached him his freshman year in 2018 before Manny Diaz was brought in.
Diaz lasted just 18 days before getting an offer from Miami and leaving.
His head spinning, Ryan decided to exit, too.
He wasn’t mad. He didn’t feel like a rejected lover. He just saw how the world really spins.
“He had to do the best for him, just like I had to do what was best for me. I can’t really be a hypocrite,” Ryan explained. ““I just made the move that was best for me. It’s a great program and I loved it there, but I felt I needed to make the change as a personal thing,” he said.
It was more him than the coaching situation.
“I couldn’t let it get to me much because they are both pretty good guys. The new coach at Temple asked me the same things coach Ruhle asked for me to do. I just felt like that was best for me and my family at the time,” he said.
And so Brown, in desperate need of tall, physical receivers, moved in. He was pretty sure he’d get a waiver due to the double coaching change that would make Ryan available immediately but it took all summer before the NCAA finally came through.
“It was a pretty long process but I never doubted it would work out and coach Brown never doubted,” Ryan said. “Coach Brown did a good job of preparing me and the guys did a good job of taking me in and keeping me focused and locked in as if I was going to play, even though I didn’t know if I was going to play.”
And he knew he’d made the right move when he walked out onto the field for the opener.
“The fans love the players here, the coach here. I felt the love the first time I walked out onto the field. It was big for me to be accepted like that,” he said.
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Jimbo Fisher recruited Campbell to Florida State back in 2015 expecting him to blossom into one of the next great players for the Seminoles.
He was considered one of the top receivers in the nation — if not the top receiver — after finishing with 62 catches for 880 yards and 12 of his 18 touchdowns for the year, adding three on punt returns, two on kickoff returns and one on a run.
ESPN rated him the seventh-best player coming out of high school that year and Rivals rated him the No. 26 player in that recruiting class.
His freshman year did nothing to diminish the hopes for him, Campbell being a key contributor on special teams while playing in 11 games.
His sophomore season ended after four games due to an injury, a freakish sports hernia and a hip problem.
But if you are looking for omens, his best game that season was against WVU’s opponent this week, North Carolina State, catching three passes for 85 yards, including a 60-yard gainer from quarterback James Blackman.
He wound up the next year playing only seven games with four catches when they had to go back in with a scope and cut away a small piece of the hip bone to ease what had become severe pain.
“There were times when I’d get down but you can’t control it. The only thing you can control is how you react,” Campbell said. “For me to react the way I have after having been gone so long is a great thing.
“I’m happy for the opportunity coach Brown and his staff gave me, even the players welcoming me. Just to be on this team is really good for me.”
He didn’t waste the three years at Florida State, earning a degree in social science, which allowed him to transfer and play right away at WVU.
And he crashed the party with those two touchdown catches in two games.
“It definitely feels good,” he admitted of his first two college touchdowns. “I hadn’t scored before this, but to come out and score in two games back to back, it definitely feels good and I’m doing what I love to do.”
The team’s start, of course, was not expected, either, and when that happens there’s a tendency for players to put it all on their own shoulders, which can hurt their performance.
This is especially true of a player who has his last chance to make an impression like Campbell, but he says he’s not buying into that.
“You just have come in, watch the film, see what you did wrong. It was a tough loss. They are a good team. We have to correct our mistakes and look forward to North Carolina State,” he said.