The worst thing for Michigan State cornerback Amp Campbell after
he broke his neck trying to make a tackle last year wasn't the
tearful call he made to his parents in Florida from a hospital
in Eugene, Ore., or the disheartening news that he might never
play football again. It wasn't the shooting pain he felt after
doctors drilled a pair of holes in his skull and fitted him with
a halo that would lock his head in place, or the intense
discomfort he experienced, after emergency spinal-fusion
surgery, whenever he sat for more than 20 minutes. No, the worst
thing was that for six months he couldn't play with his
two-year-old daughter, Kiera.
"When I told her I couldn't pick her up or do the things I
normally did with her, she started to cry," says Amp, who
returned to East Lansing, Mich., four days after the mishap
wearing a brace that extended from his neck to his lower back.
"That broke my heart. We'd sit at home watching football on TV,
and she'd say, 'Daddy's there playing football.' I'd tell her no,
and she'd keep asking, 'Why?'"
When he began rehabilitation, Amp says, "I didn't know if I'd
play football again, but every night I'd look at Kiera sleeping
and find strength to push harder. She was my inspiration."
Campbell's long road back ended last week when he started in the
Spartans' season opener, a 27-20 victory over Oregon. Though he
was tentative making tackles in the early going, he seemed to
gain confidence in the second half, and in the fourth quarter he
returned a fumble 85 yards for the game-winning touchdown. "This
is a dream come true," he said afterward.
Entering last season, the 6-foot, 200-pound Campbell was one of
the top cornerbacks in the Big Ten. But his plan to use his
senior season as a springboard to the NFL ended 10 minutes into
the Spartans' second game, in Eugene, when he slipped and ducked
his head while trying to make a touchdown-saving tackle. "My arm
felt like it was on fire," says Campbell. "I was in a lot of
pain, but I walked off the field. I figured I had separated my
The first neck X-ray was negative, but a second showed fractures
of the sixth and seventh vertebrae, which doctors fused with
bone taken from Campbell's hip. Six days later Campbell walked
into the Spartans' locker room as Michigan State prepared to
take the field against Notre Dame. During a team prayer he broke
down and cried. "If you have any pride, you'll win this one for
Amp," tailback Sedrick Irvin said, fighting back tears. The
Spartans drilled the Irish 45-23.
Campbell began rehabilitating soon thereafter, and as he got
stronger, he thought of playing again. "I've been proving people
wrong my whole life, and once I started, I wasn't going to give
up," says Campbell, who petitioned the NCAA for a sixth year of
eligibility, which he was granted in April, on the condition
that he graduate by the end of the second summer session.
Campbell earned his degree in telecommunications in August.
"Last year was a freak thing, and I just wanted to get back to
the point I'd been at before the injury."
Spartans coach Nick Saban is delighted to have him back and
says, "I've never pulled for a player the way I've pulled for
Amp. What he has done makes me feel better than beating the
49ers [in 1993, when Saban was defensive coordinator of the
Cleveland Browns] or beating Ohio State last year when it was
Number 1. No matter what happens from here, we've won."
Just ask Kiera.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER