Seniors Sam Campbell of Prairie Ridge, left, and Cam Kinley of Larkin, are the honorary co-captains of the 2007 Daily Herald All-Area football team.
John Starks | Staff Photographer
Prairie Ridge running back Sam Campbell is too young to have seen legendary Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton play football.
Payton played his final game in a Bears uniform on Jan. 10, 1988.
Campbell, 18, was born 21 months later on Oct. 28, 1989
Still, Campbell idolizes Sweetness, a result of hours spent watching his dad's stack of Payton video highlights.
"I love his running style," said Campbell, who wore No. 34 in tribute. "He was one of the smaller guys on the field, yet he was always running over guys twice his size. He had great heart."
Campbell was so enamored by his idol he even ordered a pair of Payton's famous Roos athletic shoes he found in an Eastbay catalogue. He wore them around school for kicks.
They no longer make Roos wristbands like Payton used to wear during games, so Campbell bought plain wristbands and wrote "Roos" on them with a marker.
He even started wearing a hand towel tucked into his belt with 34 emblazoned on it, just like his hero.
Idolizing Payton was a natural for Campbell, who likewise was never the biggest player on the field at 5-foot-11, 185-pounds.
"I watched Sam in his freshman games and his coaches said he'd be ready to play varsity the next year," recalled Prairie Ridge coach Chris Schremp. "When I called him into my office to talk to him about it, he was just this scrawny little kid. I thought, 'Oh boy, this kid's not going to be able to do it.'
"When we told him we were looking for him to play varsity football as a sophomore, that really inspired him in the weight room. But did I ever think he'd be rushing for 1,700 yards? No."
Campbell spent the next three seasons proving to the world he had as much heart as his idol, and he left broken records in his wake.
This season he capped a three-year varsity career with his best campaign to date. The senior rushed 1,790 yards and scored 34 total touchdowns, both school records, in leading the Wolves to the second quarterfinal playoff appearance in school history.
For these accomplishments Sam Campbell has been named honorary co-captain of the 2007 Daily Herald All-Area football team.
Campbell, co-captain Cam Kinley of Larkin, the rest of the all-area team and the players of the week will be honored at the Daily Herald All-Area Recognition Banquet at Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre in Hoffman Estates on Sunday, Dec. 9.
Campbell set the bar pretty high for future Prairie Ridge running backs by setting school records for yards rushing (3,556), attempts (401), receptions (73), receiving yards (1,095), touchdowns (59) and points scored (366).
Those statistics were good enough to elevate Campbell to elite company among some of the best football players in state history.
Campbell's 366 points, for instance, place him 35th on the all-time career scoring list, according to IHSA.org.
Only 30 players in state history have scored more than Campbell's 59 career touchdowns.
According to Campbell, his records were simply a byproduct of a team effort.
"I couldn't let the hype of thinking about getting to any record get in my mind," he said. "I was just concentrating on going out there every week playing hard, staying low and blocking hard. A lot of people put importance on the numbers, but if I blocked well I could help my team just as much, so I stressed blocking. The numbers just came."
And came and came.
Though Prairie Ridge returned 9 of 11 starters on offense, including four of five linemen and tight end Peter Shimp, it didn't seem likely Campbell could surpass his 2006 totals of 1,486 yards and 18 touchdowns.
"We told Sam that it would be hard to top the great numbers he had last year because people were going to be lined up to stop him," Schremp said. "Last year as a junior, people didn't really know who he was. What was amazing is that every week people lined up to try to stop Sam, but nobody could."
A good student with a 3.2 grade-point average -- "I got all A's on my last report card," he said -- Campbell has received interest from several Division II and Division III programs. He intends to keep his football career going in college.
What a fortunate college coach will get in Sam Campbell is an ironman, one who missed games as infrequently as his idol.
Walter Payton missed just one game due to injury in 13 seasons. In three varsity seasons -- despite absorbing the abuse that comes with 401 career carries and 73 career receptions -- Campbell never missed a game. In fact, he never missed a practice, according to Schremp.
"I was lucky to stay healthy the whole year," Campbell said.
The fortunate ones were Campbell's teammates, coaches and fans, all of whom had the pleasure of experiencing this senior's special brand of sweetness.
Larkin quarterback Cam Kinley knew how to negotiate a contract before he could negotiate a defense.
"Every year before football season came around I'd have to buy him a PlayStation or XBox or something like that before he'd agree to play," said Cam's father, Dan Kinley. "I think he's happy now that I bribed him."
Count Larkin coach Dave Bierman among those happy Kinley stuck with Elgin Pop Warner football.
As it turned out, Kinley proved to be the perfect quarterback to run Bierman's spread offense -- tall (6-foot-3), quick, durable and smart with a great arm and impeccable accuracy.
As a junior in 2006, Kinley threw for 1,474 yards, 15 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. But he wasn't the only offensive weapon on that playoff team, which also included running back Will Carter, who rushed for 1,071 yards and 10 touchdowns.
With Carter graduated and no experienced backs returning, the Royals played to their strengths this year: Kinley's arm and the great hands and speed of wide receivers Nick Bee, Ryan Shriver and Jake Kane, a trio that finished 1-2-3 in area receiving yards.
"This year I felt there was added pressure because we were going to run the spread and pretty much the spread only," Kinley said. "Being all-conference last year I think they expected more out of me, but I tried not to think about it and just tried to play the game."
Clearly, the plan worked.
Kinley set five single-season school records and two career school records while carving a place for himself among the best quarterbacks in state history.
For these voluminous reasons Kinley has been named honorary co-captain of the 2007 Daily Herald All-Area Football Team.
Kinley, co-captain Sam Campbell of Prairie Ridge, the rest of the all-area team and the players of the week will be honored at the 2007 Daily Herald All-Area football banquet at Stonegate Conference & Banquet Centre in Hoffman Estates on Sunday, Dec. 9.
A not-so brief listing of Kinley's accomplishments…
• 2,894 yards passing, the 25th highest single-season total in state history and a Larkin record, surpassing Matt Schabert's mark of 2,837 yards set in 1999.
•34 touchdowns, good for 18th on the IHSA's all-time list for a single season and a Larkin record, bettering Schabert's 30 TDs in 1999.
•321.6 yards passing per game, the fourth-highest single-season average in Illinois high school football history.
• Completion percentage of 62.6 (174 of 278), 10th best all time.
• 449 yards passing against Jacobs in a 75-58 loss at Memorial Field on Aug. 30, tied with Schaumburg's Kurt Kittner for the 23rd-highest single game total ever.
• 7 touchdown passes in the game against Jacobs, putting him in a 15-way tie for fifth place all time.
• An average of 229.9 yards passing in 19 games over two seasons, the tenth-highest career average in IHSA history.
• 49 career touchdown passes, placing him in a tie for 28th on the all-time list.
When Kinley went into the season, records were the last thing on his mind.
"You don't even think about it," Kinley said. "You just think about wins and losses. But looking back now I guess it was pretty good, something I'm pretty proud of."
Kinley is a durable, elusive quarterback. A three-sport athlete, he made blitzers miss and threw accurately on the run while rolling out in either direction.
On the rare occasions Kinley took a hit squarely, he bounced right back up and called the next play.
"He's a tough kid," Bierman said. "He'd get hit, shake it off and come right back."
Larkin's quarterback is the first to say how much he benefited from the athleticism of receivers Bee (1,076 yards, 13 TDs), Shriver (891, 9) and Kane (543, 9) and their ability to gain chunks of yardage after the catch.
"You'd throw a 3-yard pass and they'd turn it into a 70-yard play," Kinley said. "Those 3-yard passes are a lot easier than trying to chuck it down the field all the time. Having them do all the work sometimes was pretty helpful."
But don't be fooled. Kinley was accurate on deep throws all season.
That's why trying to single out one game this season as Kinley's best is difficult; He had so many memorable performances. However, Bierman said Kinley's 409-yard, 5-touchdown effort in a 56-39 loss to Neuqua Valley was his best on tape.
"He did heck of a job even though they brought pressure," Bierman said. "But if you ask Cam, he'd probably say the Elgin game."
The coach knows his quarterback well. Kinley did say Elgin was his best game.
He completed 25-of-33 passes (76 percent) for 411 yards and 6 touchdowns to lead the Royals (4-5) to a come-from-behind, 53-35 victory over their natural rival.
"Elgin is always going to talk a bunch of trash during the Elgin-Larkin game," Kinley said. "To go out in the second half and basically tear them apart was pretty fun."