MORGANTOWN — While he was born in Morgantown, Shea Campbell moved to Pittsburgh a few years later and spent the early part of his childhood in the Steel City.
The Pittsburgh influence was heavy, especially with his grandfather, Gene Steratore Sr., being a letterman at Pitt.
Still, Campbell said he learned “Country Roads” long before he ever learned the words to “Sweet Caroline,” so even though he was surrounded by Panther pride, his West Virginia roots never changed.
Now, Campbell is the starting “Mike” linebacker for the Mountaineers and is proving his worth as a Power-5 player — something he never questioned even though others did.
After living in Pittsburgh for about seven years, Campbell and his family moved back to Morgantown while he was in elementary school.
That’s when football started to become a major part of Campbell’s life. From a Marilla Mustang to a South Stallion to a Morgantown Mohigan, he started to realize that he has a legitimate chance to play at the next level, but he had something else in mind.
As a safety at MHS, Campbell started getting looks from Division II programs in the Mountain East Conference. He just never made eye-contact and looked the other way.
“There were a lot of opportunities for me to take official visits to Division II schools — I just didn’t pursue them very hard or at all, really,” Campbell said. “I just didn’t want to play at a small school.”
That narrowed his choices down drastically, but Campbell still wanted the experience of playing in front of 60,000 people and wanted “the big deal.”
“I knew what I was capable of, but it was hard not being highly recruited because I had to travel places like Charlotte just so I could do certain things that other highly recruited guys didn’t have to,” he said.
That left becoming a walk-on as the lone option, and Campbell took the route with the hometown Mountaineers. He came to WVU as a 205-pound free safety, working with the likes of Karl Joseph and K.J. Dillon — NFL draft picks.
But it didn’t take long for Campbell to start to bulk up under a college lifting program. Within a few months of being on campus, he gained 10 pounds, and that upward trend continued and Campbell knew what that likely meant.
Under defensive coordinator Tony Gibson, it’s common for safeties to move down to linebacker, especially if they can physically handle it. Nick Kwiatkoski and Wes Tonkery did it, and now JoVanni Stewart did the same this season.
“When I started putting weight on, I said to myself, ‘I am not doing this because I know what’s gonna happen — they’re gonna want me to move to linebacker,’ ” Campbell said. “I’ve never played any position except safety, so for me, it was I didn’t want to play linebacker.”
Once Campbell got to about 220 pounds, Gibson approached him and said that at about 225, he could move down to linebacker. “To me, that was a statement and not a question, so I just said alright, let’s do this,” Campbell said.
Now at 240 pounds, Campbell is getting important reps at Mike in the absence of Dylan Tonkery, getting the last two starts there at Iowa State and against Baylor.
Campbell had 12 tackles, including three for a loss, against the Cyclones, and put his old safety skills to the test with his first career interception against the Bears.
“I’ve seen the grind that Shea has put in in the offseason and I’ve seen that switch come on and he wanted to be out there with us,” linebacker David Long said. “I wasn’t surprised by the plays he’s been making — I’ve already seen it, whether it was on the scout team, playing with the twos, whatever.”