Campbell is not done, but he has come a long way

Deion Jones (left) and De'Vondre Campbell arrive for the first day of mandatory minicamp  in Flowery Branch earlier this summer.  Curtis Compton/

Deion Jones (left) and De'Vondre Campbell arrive for the first day of mandatory minicamp in Flowery Branch earlier this summer. Curtis Compton/

Nothing has been easy for Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell.

Along his football journey, Campbell has been questioned. He’s been doubted. He’s been told he wasn’t quite good enough.

He was too slow. Too skinny. Not strong enough.

His hips couldn’t turn on a swivel.

All of this is why his Twitter handle is @Came_Along_Way.

“It’s just the epitome of the work that I had to put in to get here,” Campbell told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “For as long as I can remember in my football career, I had to take the long route to get where I am. That’s what it means.”

Campbell journey starts in Fort Myers, Fla.

“I wasn’t a (Division I) recruit coming out of high school,” Campbell said, reflecting back. “I had to go to community college. Out of community college, I was like a two, three-star recruit.”

Not Miami, Florida State nor Florida tried to land the in-state recruit after high school or after he finished his version of Last Chance U., Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College.

Campbell landed in the Big Ten, off the beaten path at Minnesota. He starred for the Golden Gophers for three seasons and blossomed into a 6-foot-4, 232-pound linebacker.

“Then coming out of Minnesota there were all these questions,” Campbell said. “He’s not smart enough, this or that. That’s kind of what it was for me. Trials and tribulations.”

The growth spurt helped.

“I was always about 5-11, 6-foot maybe 6-1 until like my junior year in high school and then I kind of grew two or three inches out of nowhere,” Campbell said. “I’ve been about 6-3, 6-4 since then. But I’ve always been light. I’ve recently put on a lot of weight over the past year and half, two years. I’ve always been around the 230 range. Now I’m like 245, 250.”

While others questioned Campbell’s prowess, the Falcons envisioned a unique player and drafted him in the fourth round in 2016. They believe Campbell could play the run, cover tight ends and rush the passer.

“Base package, he’s playing our (strongside) linebacker,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “The advantage we have with that is that we can put him on the end of the line a lot and we can bring him. He’s got that part of the pass-rush ability there.

“In the nickel package, that’s where we feature him and try to match him up on tight ends.”

Campbell started as a rookie for the Falcons and helped the team reach Super Bowl LI. Last season, he started to fully blossom into his role.

Campbell was third on the team with 93 tackles. He had six quarterback hits, two sacks and three tackles for losses and four passes defensed.

Falcons middle linebacker Deion Jones and Campbell recently discussed their different paths to the NFL.

“Even though I was highly recruited and went to LSU, I still had to come up,” Jones said. “But his path was a little bit more rigorous. He had to go to junior college. He was out there in Kansas. He was telling me how he was pretty much in the middle of nowhere.

“It’s just like you just learn from other people’s journey. You appreciate your journey and then you also respect from where he’s coming from and what he did, too.”

Jones had to wait his turn at LSU behind Kwon Alexander and others. He didn’t need to attend community college or play at a non-powerhouse school in a far away conference.

“For him to keep grinding and to keep doing what he was doing and still make it to the level that he wanted to play on is great,” Jones said.

Campbell was elated to host his second annual youth football camp in July in his hometown. He doesn’t want the next player to have to travel his path to the NFL.

“I didn’t have (a camp) when I was younger,” Campbell said. “I didn’t have NFL players or guys who were successful that were from my community to come back and show me ‘this is what it takes’ or this is what life can be like.’ You don’t (have to) be in the streets.

“A lot of the kids think they don’t have a choice. They don’t think they have anything to do. That was just my opportunity to give back. Give them a day where they can have fun, come out compete and enjoy themselves.”

Jones made his first Pro Bowl as an alternate last season. He’s hoping that he and Campbell can can make it together this season.

“That’s the plan,” Jones said. “We are tying to get there together, that’s for sure.”