By Devin Golden
Jared Campbell’s plan was to wait until the end of his final high school baseball season to consider college options in both that sport and football.
Then Young Harris College officials offered him a spot on the diamond — and the North Murray senior couldn’t pass it up.
On Thursday afternoon at North Murray, Campbell signed a partial athletic scholarship with Young Harris, a private college in Northeast Georgia. The Mountain Lions’ athletic programs are currently in transition from the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) to the NCAA’s Division II.
Campbell was part of North Murray’s first freshman class and his senior class is the first one to spend all four years at the school, which began classes in 2009 with sophomores who had previously attended Murray County High School as well as incoming freshmen.
Campbell spent his falls causing havoc for opposing offenses as a starting linebacker on the football team. In the spring, he still has a mask on but is behind home plate and directs the defense as a catcher.
This past football season, Campbell made 40 tackles — 30 solo and four for a loss — forced one fumble and recovered two fumbles. He also had seven quarterback pressures, a sack and three pass deflections as the Mountaineers went 5-5 in coach David Gann’s inaugural season after the team went 1-19 during the program’s first two varsity campaigns.
Campbell said Berry College was interested in him for its football program, which kicks off competition this year.
“Baseball was always my passion growing up,” he said. “Football season went really well. I was going to wait until baseball season was over to make a decision, but Young Harris gave me the opportunity.”
Campbell has a batting average of .444 this season with one home run and 12 RBIs. His on-base percentage is .536 and his slugging percentage is .689. On top of those standout offensive numbers, his leadership is valuable on defense, Mountaineers coach Steve Granger said.
“He’s like the coach on the field, to be honest,” Granger said. “When he’s back there, he is directing people on what to do and where to be. Behind the plate, he’s going to block the ball and get in front of some stuff.”
Campbell said he has a chance to earn a starting spot “from the get-go” at Young Harris. Additionally, Campbell liked that the school is close to home and secluded from big cities.
“It’s real quiet,” said Campbell, who visited the school in December and February. “The coaching staff has been incredible to me. It just seems like the right fit.”
Campbell’s new home is going through something new. Young Harris started the three-year move from the NJCAA to the NCAA during the 2011-2012 school year and is about to finish the second year of that process.
Young Harris’ baseball team is competing in the Peach Belt Conference, the league affiliation for all of the school’s athletics, and can compete for conference awards and titles so long as they don’t come with an automatic berth to NCAA tournaments. The Mountain Lions will have active membership status starting in Campbell’s sophomore year.
Young Harris coach Rick Robinson said Campbell has something from playing football that most players he coaches don’t have right away.
“I think the biggest thing with Jared is he’s obviously a very good athlete, a two-sport athlete his whole life, and we feel once he has the opportunity to focus just on baseball, then his level of play will increase tremendously in a short period of time,” Robinson said.
“Any time you can pick up a quality athlete who’s also a football player, they bring a type of mental toughness to the team that most baseball players have to acquire after they get to college.”
Since Robinson took over in 1999, the Mountain Lions have gone 635-230, won eight conference titles and appeared once in the NJCAA World Series. From 2003 to 2005, Young Harris won at least 50 games each season. This year, the team has a 19-19 record.
“I’m going to get great coaching there,” Campbell said.