Caleb Campbell more than just a football player

It doesn't take much to stir emotion in me when it comes to sports.

That trait has been a part of me since I first became an avid sports fan.

As a teenager, I still remember getting choked up at the sight of the U.S. hockey team knocking off the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics en route to winning the gold medal.

This "miracle on ice" couldn't of happened at a better time as the cold war seemed to get scarier every day. It was certainly more than an unexpected hockey victory. It was a boost to this country's morale when we needed it most.

Anytime I hear the chant of "USA, USA," I get excited.

Politics and religion can divide this nation quicker than anything, but there's nothing better than sports to serve as a rallying cry.

Sunday afternoon, at the annual NFL Draft, it happened again as Army safety Caleb Campbell stole the spotlight, getting selected by the Detroit Lions with the 218th pick.

Even before Campbell got the phone call from Lions' CEO Matt Milen, informing him he now belonged to Detroit, Campbell had turned into a fan favorite.

Those who donned in Jets', Patriots' and Colts' attire jumped on the bandwagon, briefly coming over to the same side and showing their support with chants of "Campbell, Campbell, Campbell and USA, USA and USA."

Most football fans were introduced to Caleb Campbell through a segment that ran Sunday as part of ESPN's draft coverage.

Then and there, it became obvious, the man is a legitimate talent who wasn't a token pick of the Lions and their coach Rod Marinell, a former Vietnam vet.

"I was really wondering what was going to happen at that time," Campbell said "When Mr. Millen called me and told me that, it was like so much weight was off my shoulders, knowing that I was going to get picked in the 2008 NFL Draft. It was a great, great feeling knowing that I was part of this draft process."

Still, Campbell is a fish out of water. Football players don't go to Army, or any of the Service Academies, with thoughts of making it to the NFL.

They are not a farm system like most major college programs.

Young men go to the academies to become officers, not future NFL stars.

But a little known loophole at West Point might allow Campbell to do both.

If he makes it with the Lions, he can play football during the fall, then serve as an army recruiter in the offseason.

Campbell even talks about fulfilling the rest of his military duties after his football career is over.

Some say, that's not fair, since most young officers and enlisted men serve at least one tour of duty in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Most, however, are on Campbell's side, saying he has a right to pursue his NFL dreams too.

Only time will tell if Campbell has a future in pro football, but there's not a better recruiting tool for the Army, or this country, than a player who knocks heads in the NFL, then serves the United States in the off-season.

Doug Gorman is the sports editor of the Clayton News Daily and Henry Daily Herald. He can be reached at dgorman@news-daily.com.