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Calais Campbell: Exercising both brain AND body

What do you get when you mix a star athlete with a chess club champion? Some might say a fight in the locker room, but they clearly don’t know Calais Campbell.

Lines between “jock” and “nerd” have been blurred for the 6’8, 300-pound professional football player, who said he has spent his entire life equally dedicated to academics and athletics. While he now shines as a standout defensive end for the Arizona Cardinals, he got his humble start making headlines for chess tournaments – a far cry from the ESPN segments he fills today.

From checkmates to touchdowns, it’s Calais’ fierce competitiveness and self-proclaimed “hate-to-lose” attitude that drive him. 

“I’m kind of a sore loser, so whether it’s class, or chess, or football, or whatever, I’ve always followed the same formula to success,” the Denver, CO native said. “Just educate yourself the best you can and outwork anyone else.”

This is the message Calais is spreading to students across America who look up to him for more than his gargantuan stature. In his second year on TEAM NFL, an education-based program committed to cutting the high school dropout rate in half by 2018, Calais hopes to inspire youth the same way his own father, Charles, inspired him.

 “In college, I had the option to leave early for the draft, but I wouldn’t do it until I got my degree,” Calais said. “I knew that was important to my dad, who pushed me to be 100% in everything I do.”

Graduating from the University of Miami in less than four years with a double major and a minor, it seems Calais has lived up to the expectations set by his father, who passed away just a few months shy of his son’s freshman year of college. Yet, Charles’ impact is still apparent in his son, who begins every game on bended-knee in prayer at each stadiums’ opposing end zone.

Extending his father’s spirit beyond sports, Calais started his own charity, the Charles Richard Campbell Foundation, to help students succeed. From planning fundraising events to granting scholarships, Calais believes he’s simply “doing the work [he] was meant to do.”

While his father was an integral part of Calais’ academic, athletic, and philanthropic endeavors, he recognizes not every student in America comes from such a fortunate family background. Growing up in a ten-person household, Calais declared his biggest struggle in promoting TEAM NFL is the disconnect he feels from kids who lack supportive, stable families.

“It’s unfortunate that some people don’t really have the same kind of support system I had in my life,” Campbell said. “But it’s important to let those kids know there are still people who want to see them succeed. There are coaches and mentors out there, we just have to find them.”

Become a reader, tutor, or mentor and help Calais on his mission to help educate students in America. Click here to join TEAM CAMPBELL: http://www.unitedway.org/team-nfl/players/Calais-Campbell/