Three minutes into his first game as an Ohio State Buckeye, Parris Campbell had an opportunity to show out on a national stage.
It was September 7, 2015, and the Buckeyes were on the road for a primetime matchup against Virginia Tech. The game had been hyped all summer — a chance for Ohio State to avenge the only loss during an otherwise perfect championship season the year before.
The Buckeyes had stars at every position. Ezekiell Elliott, Cardale Jones, Michael Thomas, Braxton Miller, Joey Bosa, Darron Lee, Vonn Bell and a host of others who now play on Sundays. But on the first drive of the highly anticipated season, it was Campbell with the chance to shine.
The Buckeyes had the ball at Virginia Tech's 39-yard line on first-and-10. The shotgun snap went to Jones and he locked in on Campbell immediately. The redshirt freshman glided 10 yards before turning in on his post route. Jones threw a perfectly placed dart to Campbell, who just needed to haul it in to ignite the start of his collegiate career.
He couldn't do it, though. The pass bounced off his hands and hit the Lane Stadium turf. A clearly dejected Campbell jogged to the sideline with his head down.
That was the biggest moment of Campbell's early career — a defining play that seemingly followed him all year. If he hauled that in, the coaching staff would've trusted him with more playing time.
It wasn't just a touchdown pass he dropped that night, but rather the opportunity to solidify his place in the rotation of a national title contender.
He finished his redshirt freshman season with zero catches, zero rush attempts and one huge regret.
"I think about that first game, that first drop I had, I think about that every day. There isn't a day that goes by where I don't think about it," Campell said the following year. "So that pushes me to go harder."
And the harder he pushed, the more traction he gained.
There were still struggles, but Campbell's production steadily increased. During his sophomore season, he registered 175 total yards and a touchdown. Last year, he tallied 40 catches for 584 yards to complement 132 rushing yards and four total touchdowns. But his tenacity really paid off in his final season with the Buckeyes.
Entering the Big Ten title game against Northwestern, Campbell needs 97 receiving yards to become just the fifth receiver in school history to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark. His 903 yards have come from a team-high 72 receptions, and he's found the end zone 11 times.
It's no secret the Buckeyes utilize his speed primarily in the screen game and on jet sweeps, and he's been nothing short of explosive, ranking second among Power-5 teams in yards after the catch.
Rondale Moore leads the nation in yards after the catch pic.twitter.com/NOlr8wKIJG— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 29, 2018
He was never better than he was last Saturday against Michigan. Facing the country's top-ranked pass-defense that was limiting opponents to a remarkable 123 passing yards per game, Campbell registered six catches for a career-high 192 yards and two touchdowns. And the highlight of the day came when he took a jet sweep and raced around (and then by) the Wolverines' entire defense.
"We knew as the wide receiver group that they were going to play man all game," Campbell said of Michigan's coverage. "It's about one-on-one matchups, and we had to win those matchups."
Campbell wasn't ready to take advantage of those matchups in his first appearance as a Buckeye. But four years later, playing in the last regular season game of his career, he put the bow on his maturation process with a historic showing against Ohio State's top rival.