Ibraheim Campbell, Northwestern Wildcats football, No. 24

US PRESSWIRE

Ibraheim Campbell was a freakish running back in high school and immediately became one of Northwestern's best defensive players. This year, he'll be the rock of NU's secondary -- and he's still got two years left.

24 days! Ibraheim Campbell!

Not much you can't say about Campbell, the 5'11, 205-pound kid from Philly who almost instantaneously became one of the most consistent players Northwestern has on defense. He started right off the bat and was clearly up to the task as a freshman (if occasionally rough around the edges) but was damn near omnipresent as a sophomore, part of a major defensive improvement that helped the Cats win 10 games.

Now a junior, the defense is looking to him as one of its key players, the star and most experienced player in a secondary that looks to start two new guys. His play should speak for itself, but whether or not Campbell can keep it up and keep the secondary solid in 2013 is key to Northwestern's success.

Origin myth

Campbell is a Philly kid, and played for Chestnut Hill Academy. Because that's a relatively small school -- 600 kids, K-12 -- dude absolutely WRECKED SHOP playing both ways. As a senior, he had 1,885 yards (!) and 28 touchdowns (!) in ten games (!!!) with his two-year stats on defense featuring 135 tackles, nine picks, and four forced fumbles. He scored a game-winning TD in overtime to give his team the city championship as a senior. Seriously, watch the carnage, here as he takes on kids who are a) smaller b) slower and c) less agile. I particularly recommend the run around the 45 second mark, where he personally jukes or stiff-arms four defenders.

Man.

How do you even scout that? "He's faster than the slow kids?" I've honestly never seen a video with more 30-plus yard TD runs, and this is just his senior highlight tape, and the description says his year wasn't over yet. So anyway, dude was all-city at safety, but all-state at running back, and ended up making the Philadelphia Daily News' all-Decade team for the 2000's at running back.

So he was a three-star recruit, with Scout putting him as the nation's No. 87 RB -- seriously, why does Scout always pick the wrong position -- and Rivals putting him as the nation's No. 50 safety. He got decent offers -- Michigan State, Stanford, Vanderbilt, Minnesota. While Northwestern recruited him to play on offense -- superbacks coach Bob Heffner was lead recruiter -- he was "adamant" that he play defense (also read that article from after his redshirt year) for stuff on Campbell's backstory and development), picked NU towards the end of that epic senior year.

At Northwestern

Well, this is a much more interesting one than just saying "dude redshirted!" Dude did redshirt though, and as a redshirt freshman, was thrust into the role as Northwestern's starting safety opposite Brian Peters in 2011. He was immediately capable of cleaning up plays on a defense that needed help: without a whole lot of plays being made by the front seven, he ended up as the team's leader in tackles. He needed to make double-digit stops in early losses to Army and Illinois, and ended up with 100 tackles on the year. He made big plays -- two picks against Michigan, where he basically played centerfield against Denard Robinson's scatterplot passing attack, a fumble recovery early of Quincy Enunwa's WHOOPS play where he only had one man to beat and a big TFL against Rex Burkhead against Nebraska he was also part of the problem, often individually responsible for big plays by the opposition on blown assignments as the freshman struggled in a secondary where even the older guys had communication issues.

It was generally the work of a talented young player on a defense that was often overmatched. As such, he earned Freshman All-American honors: not many freshmen lead their damn team in tackles.

But even after a season where he was one of the best freshmen in the country, Campbell's sophomore year was an improvement, part of a big improvement by the defense overall. Cut out the need for Campbell to constantly be bailing out his teammates due to three strong linebackers instead of none, and cut out the sloppy mistakes, and any way you break it down, he was just one of the rocks of Northwestern's defense. His coverage was better, with 12 pass breakups and two picks. His tackling was sound when needed, with 89 stops. And he had the occasional big hit -- forced fumbles against Michigan State and Nebraska, both of which NU recovered, and a biiiiiiiiiggggggg hit on Andrew Maxwell that turned into a pick-six for David Nwabuisi on one of his rare forays into the backfield. Honorable mention all-Big Ten, easily.

Career highlights

Campbell has a decent amount! But there's an easy one. And it's one which has been broken down by MountainTiger, if you'd like to learn about what Campbell does defensively.

Northwestern started out the Gator Bowl pretty much perfectly with a Quentin Williams pick-six. But Mississippi State seemed really primed to answer back. Ladarius Perkins had 24 yards on just three carries, and after throwing the early pick, Tyler Russell was cooking, completing all four of his passes, three of them for ten yards or more. The Bulldogs seemed primed to make up for their early mistake.

But Campbell ended all of that. The safety on the right side of the field, Campbell has tight end Malcolm Johnson passed off to him, and it looks like he's headed for the end zone. Instead, he runs a cutback route towards the sidelines, and Campbell seems beat: when Russell sets to throw, there are at least four yards of separation between Campbell and Johnson. But he had the play read perfectly, and was baiting the throw: he nipped in front of the pass and gets his foot down in bounds before getting to celebrate with his teammates on the sideline, the team's second pick of the first five minutes of the game.

A great combination of football intelligence and adeptitude to nimbly, effortlessly make the play.

Listen to Ibraheim talk

Either Campbell is camera-shy or just has no personality traits whatsoever (besides liking Fresh Prince).

Anagram of choice

Discovering the Wildcats' true inner selves through spelling

Ibraheim Campbell, anagrammed, is

HAMMIER BICEP BALL

GET JACKED, I think. Honestly, a name this long with this many vowels breaks the anagram machine. We have 93,000 results with things like "her amicable blimp" and "hip climbable mare" and "blameable rich imp" (they all have "able" in them) and I can't make heads or tales of most of them.

Relevant musical selection

"Protect Ya Neck," Wu-Tang Clan

Anybody remember the short-lived "SAYIN GOODBYE LIKE TEVIN CAMPBELL" series before I realized headlines had to make sense? Well, anyway, this is just one of the best rap songs of all time and you disagree with me over your dead body that has been slain by Shaolin monks and black dudes from Staten Island.

How he can help

Well, pretty self-evident, huh? Dude's the starting safety, and one of the best in the conference. He's a always been a solid tackler, either on pass plays or on plays that escape through to the secondary, and he's taken great strides in his coverage game. After two years of very strong play, there are no questioning his credentials. But as Inside NU wrote, he now has to progress from just being the most solid player in the secondary to leading the unit, with two first-time starters next to him.

Depth chart projection

Starter, yup. Northwestern chooses not to include positionality for its safeties, but last year, after watching a bit of game film, I think Campbell was responsible for playing on the offense's right (defense's left.) as opposed to a set "free" or "strong" role. This oddly put him on the same side as Northwestern's best cover corner, Nick VanHoose, most of the time, leaving for a weakness you'd think could be exploited on the left.

I imagine NU will keep that, but with two other safeties -- Traveon Henry and Jimmy Hall -- who tend to be closer-to-the-line players and Campbell very strong in coverage you could loosely characterize him as the "free" guy. I did note that both of the instances I can recall of him blitzing were against Michigan State, which maybe is poor selective memory and maybe is just because "hey, Andrew Maxwell, beat us deep."

Who watches the watch lists

Campbell is on the Thorpe list as one of the best defensive backs in the country, and was on Phil Steele's preseason all-Big Ten second team. Quite deserving of both, too.

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