Jonathan Campbell stepped into the fold with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 2012, making an immediate impact for one the NCAA’s most-storied soccer programs. However, even the decorated central defender will admit that he still has some learning to do leading up to this week’s MLS Draft.
The senior grew up in Greensboro, roughly an hour west of Chapel Hill, and was a key contributor for Carlos Somoano’s back line over his four years in the program. This past season, Campbell started in all 20 of the team’s regular-season matches, scoring a goal and recording four assists, en route to the third round of the NCAA Men’s Tournament.
While the budding defender didn’t spend significant time in an academy system, like many of the upcoming draftees who he will be competing against did, Campbell gained valuable experience during his rise, albeit in a different setup.
“It just dawned on me probably my sophomore or junior year that I had never really had that professional environment, I don’t think I was unprepared for it,” Campbell told SBI. “I just wish I would have had something like that: to grow up in the academy.”
“During the summers, I was playing with the Carolina Dynamo, a PDL team, and still no attachment. This last summer, I went to the Seattle Sounders for a PDL team, and just really enjoyed being in that environment and having a connection to a team.”
As one of the brighter minds on and off the field in college soccer, Campbell has always stressed the importance of excellence in the classroom in addition to that he obtains on the field. In an August 2015 interview with SBI, the centerback expressed the some of the challenges that arise as a student-athlete, but now, Campbell says he’s very excited to begin the next chapter in his life.
“I’m really looking forward to making that jump where you no longer have any school work,” the defender said of starting his life as a professional player. “This is your job. This is what you’re focused on. It will be very nice for me to focus on just one thing. After you’re done with practice, you get better for it and get ready for the next day.”
Campbell is projected ninth overall in SBI’s latest 2016 MLS Mock Draft, which would send him north of the border to join Toronto FC. The UNC product currently sits behind two of his college teammates, Omar Holness and Jordan McCrary.
Seen as one of the top centerbacks in this year’s crop of defenders, Campbell has drawn similarities from several players, although his clear ties to North Carolina have him more often than not compared to FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges.
“The one that I was compared to most when I was at UNC, and I don’t know if its the best comparison, but it happened so much because people that were with me were on that team as freshman with him,” Campbell explained. “There would be obvious playing comparisons, but they’d be like ‘Jonathan, even your chest caves in like (Matt) Hedges. We would give him so much crap about his caved chest.’ They would make comparisons like that, but I mean, in all honesty, he’s a bigger guy and is athletic and has done very well. I think that that’s the best comparison for me to make. I strive to follow in his path and how he’s done. He’s made a good name for himself.”
Despite Campbell’s overall excitement about the draft process, the youngster hasn’t made a decision yet as to where he will soak in Thursday’s MLS Draft experience. While the idea of attending the draft, which will be held at the Baltimore Convention Center in Maryland, is certainly an option, Campbell realizes that everything isn’t as cut-and-dry and it may seem once the fateful day arrives.
“I think some people have had just some different perspectives on how it turned out for them,” Campbell said. “Some people that have thought they were going to go a lot higher ended up going in a lot lower rounds.”
“I just didn’t want to let that play too much in my mind. Some people on our team in the past really thought they were going to go high and it can just be a stressful time. Although I do truly hope that I go to it, and I think I will, it’s something that I hadn’t put much thought into because of that.”