There may never be a Sea Gull quite like Luke Campbell.
The Salisbury University track and field team annually competes with the top teams in Division III, with several former athletes securing national championships. The Brunswick, Maryland native sits above them all.
Campbell is the most decorated athlete in Division III track and field history, with a record 11 career national championships. The Sea Gull star found national victories in the 60-meter hurdles, 110-meter hurdles, 400-meter hurdles and the 4x400-meter relay.
Now, Campbell is looking toward the 2020 Olympics.
SU track and field head coach Jim Jones said coaching Campbell was an experience that few coaches get and stressed the significance of Campbell’s accomplishments with Salisbury.
“Having a guy that is an 11-time national champion puts him well above anybody we’ve ever had,” Jones said. “He was very special, and I think as coaches, we get one or two of those in our career.”
Campbell’s story of success started back in 2012, when he decided to attend Salisbury University.
Colleges were not heavily pursuing Campbell, as he had only a handful show interest after graduation from high school.
But Campbell’s visit helped Salisbury secure one of the most successful Sea Gulls ever. Campbell decided on Salisbury, but did not think much of his decision at the time.
“I saw myself as a regular kid with regular abilities,” Campbell said. “But after visiting Salisbury and meeting with Coach Jones and the university, I knew that this would be the best fit for me.”
There was no real way to anticipate the heights that Campbell would reach with Salisbury, but Jones saw potential from the beginning of Campbell’s time as a Sea Gull.
“From the beginning, you could see there was something special,” Jones said. “We had a group of core guys already here, and he fit in with that group that was very hardworking and focused on what they wanted to achieve.”
Campbell hit the ground running in his freshman year, finding high levels of success in the indoor season. He set the school record in the 60-meter hurdles early in the season, then topped his own mark twice as the season continued.
Campbell’s standout freshman season was noticed and rewarded. He was selected to the All-CAC Indoor First Team for the 4x400-meter relay and the All-CAC Indoor Second Team for the 60-meter hurdles.
In addition to the All-CAC selections, Campbell achieved a feat that most collegiate athletes can only dream of. He was named a U.S. Track & Field and Cross-Country Coaches Association Indoor All-American for his performance in the 60-meter hurdles as a freshman.
Campbell carried this high level of performance into the outdoor season. He was named to the All-CAC Outdoor First Team in the 110-meter hurdles and the 4x100-meter hurdles as well as the All-CAC Outdoor Second Team in the 400-meter hurdles.
The freshman phenom was also named the CAC Outdoor Rookie of the Year and USTFCCCA Outdoor All-American in the 110-meter and 400-meter hurdles.
Most notably, Campbell returned from the NCAA Outdoor Championships in Wisconsin as a national champion. He posted a time of 14.43 seconds in the 110-meter hurdle to win the event, despite being seeded 10th.
Jones said the race was one of the best he had seen Campbell run all season. The potential he saw at the beginning of the season had manifested in the form of another national championship for Salisbury.
“I told him this before, that that was one of the greatest races I had ever seen him run, period,” Jones said. “He had just a flawless race.”
The record-setting start to his collegiate career helped Campbell gain popularity and national attention, which manifested in an invitation to the U.S. National Championships.
Jones was excited for his player and ready to jump on the opportunity, but he was advised not to send Campbell to this event.
Campbell holds dual citizenship in the United States and Germany. Jones thought that opting to pursue a professional career in Germany could present a more convenient path for Campbell.
Discussions regarding a future pro career began to take shape over the coming years. It was not until Campbell’s senior campaign, though, that the wheels began to turn on the process.
In the meantime, Campbell continued to shine for the Sea Gulls. He was named an Indoor All-American for the 60-meter hurdles and received Outdoor All-American honors for his efforts in the 110-meter hurdles and 400-meter hurdles in each of his four seasons.
Campbell’s performance in the 4x100-meter and 4x400-meter relays was rewarded with All-American honors as well. He tallied 16 All-American awards throughout his time with Salisbury, also one of the top marks in school history.
During Campbell’s senior year, Jones began to draw up the roadmap for his star athlete’s professional future. The plan began with shutting Campbell down after the Outdoor Championships his senior season.
The track and field season is a marathon, with training beginning in October and the national championships taking place at the end of May. Jones said he decided it would be best to allow Campbell time to rest and recover before contacting professional teams.
Campbell’s camp reached out to several professional German clubs in the offseason, Jones said. Track and field is a club sport, rather than a traditional team-based sport, throughout the majority of Europe.
Jones said that the decision came down to two German clubs, and Campbell ultimately sided with the club that had the German national hurdle coach on staff. The following year, Jones said, was spent trying to take care of all the little details that came along with trying to transition Campbell overseas.
“It was a trying time that year of whether it would work, or whether it would happen,” Jones said. “But he stayed patient, he stayed true to what his vision was and what his goals were, and now he’s on that doorstep of maybe doing something great.”
For Campbell, though, the decision to go pro was far more complicated than filling out paperwork. Campbell grew up in Maryland, with SU just under three hours from his hometown.
Campbell said the decision was not easy, and leaving friends and family behind was very difficult, but his desire to achieve something great helped him persevere.
“It’s a tough situation for me to be in even to this day,” Campbell said. “I’m lucky to have people in my corner who understand what I’m going through and who love me unconditionally.”
Despite the emotions that came with leaving his home behind, Campbell remained focused on his craft. He performed at a very high level for his club team and eventually gained attention from the German national team.
One of Campbell’s most important showings as a professional athlete came in last year’s European Championships. Campbell said the performance gave him points that could prove to be critically important when the final Olympic qualifying list is released, a staple of the new ranking system that marks the qualification of athletes for the Olympics.
Campbell is currently in South Africa taking part in the National 400-meter Hurdle Training Camp. Campbell said this is an annual event for the German national team; they travel to an area with a good climate and nice training facilities with the goal of setting their complete focus on intense training for a few weeks.
Campbell’s immediate goals are to have a successful circuit and qualify for the World Championships in Doha, Qatar this year. However, the endgame remains the same: qualify for the 2020 Olympics.
“It’s something that I’ve been working for for the last three years,” Campbell said. “To be able to compete at [the Olympics] would bring a lot of meaning and closure in my life.”
Very few athletes reach a level where Olympic contention is even a thought. Jones said that he feels Campbell’s hard work and focus at all levels of his career have helped lead him to this new level as an athlete.
Campbell looks back fondly on his time with Salisbury University, and not just because of his successes on the track. He said that one of the significant impacts SU had on him as an athlete was having Jones as his college coach; he feels that Jones helped him reach heights he never thought possible.
“Salisbury has definitely shaped me into who I am today,” Campbell said. “I was fortunate enough to have a coach that saw potential in me, something I couldn’t even see in myself at the time.”
Regardless of where Campbell’s career goes from here, his impact on SU and Division III track and field is clear. Jones said that coaches of other schools still regularly ask about Campbell due to his collegiate success and the competitive spirit that he brought to every race he ran.
“It’s like having the Michael Jordan effect,” Jones said. “You have this tremendous, gifted and talented athlete that knows how to use those gifts … I think that’s the lasting legacy that Luke has, not just with our team, but throughout the country.”
By NICK LEWIS
Featured photo: Luke Campbell hurdling for Salisbury University (Sports Information image).