After senior Minh Vu went down with an injury in the eighth minute of an Oct. 10 matchup with No. 3 Akron, Penn State men’s soccer coach Bob Warming called upon true freshman defender Shane Campbell to deliver against one of the nation’s best passing teams.
Inserting an inexperienced defender against a seasoned club that ranks eighth nationally in goals per game? That’s almost like putting in a true freshman cornerback against Geno Smith and West Virginia’s high-powered offense.
However, it’s not farfetched in the slightest to believe that Campbell stepped in, cut out scoring chances and helped keep the Nittany Lions (8-4-2, Big Ten 2-1-1) close in a 2-0 loss.
“Shane’s played a lot of minutes this year, probably more than most freshman would play… I think it’s been a great learning experience for him,” Warming said.
While he started off a little shaky in the preseason adjusting to collegiate play, Campbell has since settled in and proven his worth on the back line.
“He’s not the same player now than when he came in,” senior defender John Gallagher said. “He was a little nervous on the ball, but he’s really matured, especially with his composure on the ball.”
As a matter of fact, Campbell has not only become acclimated to collegiate play but has also settled into a niche in the starting lineup.
Campbell has earned a spot in the starting XI in eight of the last nine games, including contests on the road against Wisconsin and at home against No. 11 Indiana.
In those eight games, Campbell has helped the Lions’ back line hold opponents to just five goals for a .625 goals per game mark.
“I’m really glad that my coaches and teammates have the confidence in me to put me out there. I came into the preseason nervous, but everything’s been positive ever since,” Campbell said.
One of the key reasons why the 5-foot-11, 165-pound defender has garnered so much playing time is his pure athletic skill.
In fact, his ability on and off the ball dates back to Campbell’s days playing as an attacking forward in high school for his club team, FC Delco.
The York, Pa., native played under FC Delco’s director and head coach Alan Mezger, who saw Campbell’s potential to play on the back line and prompted a change.
“When he was a sophomore, he had a lot of power and pace, and we switched him from a forward to defense,” Mezger said. “A lot of guys wouldn’t be receptive to that, but he had the right attitude about the change.”
At that point in his career, Campbell was starting to focus on preparing to play collegially and trusted his club coach’s decision.
“I was at the point of getting serious about playing in college, and coach Mezger thought that [switching to defense] was my best option… And so far it’s paying off,” Campbell said.
Campbell’s pace and agile nature on the pitch also gained the attention of the Philadelphia Union.
Because of Campbell’s speed and quick reactions, he was selected by the Union to play for their U-17/U-18 academy team for two seasons. He also saw practice time with the first team and played in two MLS reserve games.
The blossoming defender said his experience with the Union’s reserve and academy teams made him a better player considering they were competing against top quality opponents.
Not only did Mezger change Campbell’s position, but he also had high praise of the footballer’s leadership during his time as a captain at FC Delco.
The club coach went as far as to compare Campbell to Lions’ seasoned captain at centre back and FC Delco graduate, Brian Forgue.
“[Shane] was vocal on the back line and did everything right on and off the field… They’re definitely different playing styles, but I saw a little Brian Forgue in Shane,” Mezger said.
That’s pretty good company for a true freshman, considering Forgue’s career and reputation as a born leader.
Although Campbell will be considered for a captain position in the future, the converted defender hasn’t needed to become a vocal leader just yet.
“It’s hard to talk over Forgue. He’s always stating his case,” Warming said, “So Shane doesn’t have to say too much. Forgue’s got that covered.”