LITTLE ROCK — Steve Campbell threw a couple of well-placed verbal jabs Monday before noting how he learned early to take a punch.
David Bazzel, the host at the Little Rock Touchdown Club, described how, years ago, he and Campbell played on rival high schools in the Pensacola, Fla., area. Bazzel was a senior when Campbell was a freshman. Bazzel told the audience Monday that Campbell’s team, Tate High School, won in a showdown game, 14-10 or 10-7 or "something like that" and surged to the state title.
"Actually, the score was 17-0," Campbell teased Bazzel during his turn at the microphone.
Campbell then noted that Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson threw a hard jab at the struggling Arkansas Razorbacks during an appearance last month.
He declined to say anything about the Razorbacks and said Anderson was a friend and they were assistants together.
"But (referring to last year’s victory by the NCAA FCS Bears over the NCAA FBS Red Wolves), they played us as well as anybody last year. They were right there with us," he teased.
This season, on the way to an 8-1 record. the Bears are an exciting, hard-working, grind-it-out team that has appropriate flashes of dynamics. They are a reflection of their coach.
Campbell noted that his mental toughness and much of his coaching philosophy was forged in a pecan field in Pensacola.
His high school coach was Carl Madison, the second winningest high school coach Florida history.
One year, Tate High School lost its season opener to a team from Huntsville, Ala., a game in which Madison, an old-school coach, was not happy with his team’s effort.
Practice the next Monday was a challenge. An ordeal.
In those days, there were no limits on the length of practices.
"Our practice field was a pecan orchard," Campbell. "We’d walk along a trail through the woods to an opening in the orchard and that was the practice field."
Campbell said that practice "went and went and went and went." In those days, it was common practice to deny players water. They were expected to tough it out.
"One player finally said he couldn’t take it anymore and he quit and he took off through the trail," Campbell said. "I heard coach yell, ‘Give me a coach over there to guard that trail.’
"It got to where kids were taking off through the woods and coaches were spread out all around the woods."
"We got right that week," said Campbell, whose high a high school state championship and a Division II championship at Troy on his player resume and a Division II title (Delta State) and a national junior college championship (Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College) on his coaching resume.
Coaching is different nowadays. Players are different nowadays.
But adversity during a season is a constant. Campbell has a knack for connecting with his players, inspiring and motivating them to push through things during hard times.
The seeds were planted for that core philosphy in a pecan field.