Everybody wanted a piece of Kyree Campbell during his recruiting process. Woodbridge’s brawny 6-foot-5, 314-pound defensive lineman received over 40 Football Bowl Subdivision offers, the overtures stretching from Alabama to Ohio State, from Auburn to Notre Dame.
But no school remained more loyal to Campbell than North Carolina. Head Coach Larry Fedora personally visited the prized lineman nearly a dozen times, and the Tar Heels proved more active on social media than a teenager on vacation. “I literally hear from UNC on Twitter twice a day,” Campbell said last February.
Campbell rewarded North Carolina’s persistence with his verbal commitment last August, and he affirmed his own loyalty by officially signing with the Tar Heels on Wednesday morning at Woodbridge Senior High.
Campbell, a first-team Virginia 6A all-state selection last fall, dominated the line of scrimmage during his senior season, racking up 62 tackles (18 for loss), six sacks, two interceptions, four pass deflections and three blocked kicks. The first-team All-Met also served as a cog on the Vikings’ offensive line when his team needed some help up front.
But Campbell’s recruitment process and verbal commitment to North Carolina wrapped up before he even enrolled at Woodbridge last year. He attracted scouts’ attention during a breakout sophomore season, leading a moribund Freedom-Woodbridge team to a playoff upset over Battlefield. The four-star recruit sat about half of his junior season with a sprained medial collateral ligament, though that didn’t dissuade the scouts, who coveted Campbell’s versatility in the trenches and burst off the line. Campbell transferred about a month after his Freedom coach, Gary Wortham, accepted the head job at Woodbridge.
Though several schools solicited Campbell’s services, North Carolina rose to the top largely because of Fedora’s dogged approach on the recruiting trail.
“Any moment the NCAA allowed the head man to be out and about, he always came, which made the biggest difference in the entire decision,” Wortham said.
Carolina’s current crop of Northern Virginia natives also proved influential in his decision. M.J. Stewart (Yorktown), Jeremiah Clarke (T.C. Williams) and Malik Carney (T.C. Williams) helped persuade Campbell, while former Lake Braddock quarterback Caleb Henderson recruited him the hardest.
“Every time I go down there I hang out with that group of guys,” Campbell said. “Just being able to be comfortable down there with guys from my area and not going in like an outcast, it makes it easier.”
Campbell’s interest in the Tar Heels took a brief hit when defensive line coach Keith Gilmore left for Notre Dame last March, but North Carolina found a quick replacement who sealed the deal with any recruits on the fence. Tray Scott, the youngest member of Fedora’s staff at 30, exudes energy and enthusiasm, insisting there are no weak links on his defensive line. He calls his unit the Trench Mob and bestows each lineman with an individual link from a steel chain to remind them that their unit is only as strong as its bond.
North Carolina has produced 20 NFL draft picks at the defensive line position over the last two decades, 10 of them first rounders. Hence the self-anointed moniker, “D-Line U.”
“I’ve always looked up to Julius Peppers,” Campbell said. “I’m setting my standards very high at North Carolina, and that’s what I’m working for.”
Campbell will arrive in Chapel Hill during a time of budding optimism surrounding its resurgent football team. In the wake of impermissible-benefits violations that put the football program on three years’ probation starting in 2012, the Tar Heels rattled off 11 straight wins in 2015 to qualify for the ACC Championship and Russell Athletic Bowl.
“I don’t think I’m the only one, but I think when everybody doubted North Carolina on this season, I knew they were on the come-up,” Campbell said. “You don’t just bring in [defensive coordinator] Gene Chizik and [linebackers coach] John Papuchis just to have another 6-7 season.”
It’s safe to say Carolina is ready to embrace its latest addition: