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AMES — As a high school quarterback, Darius Lee-Campbell wasn’t afraid to throw to his receivers over the middle.
Contact with the secondary was inevitable for Lee-Campbell’s teammates, but that was part of his plan to get the ball down the field. Put the throw where the receiver could get it, tell them to simply absorb the contact and, most importantly, hang onto the ball.
Now a sophomore at Iowa State, Lee-Campbell still believes in that philosophy. Only now he’s on the other side of the connection.
“That’s my mindset: ‘He’s throwing me the ball here, I’m going to get hit regardless of if I catch the ball, so I might as well catch the ball,’” Lee-Campbell said. “That way I can catch the ball, give a thumbs up, look at Joel (Lanning) and say, ‘C’mon, man.’”
Lee-Campbell grew up playing quarterback, playing high school ball in Spring, Texas, outside of Houston. He was ESPN’s No. 45 quarterback in the nation in the class of 2014 and redshirted his first year with the Cyclones that fall.
A crowded quarterback room led the staff to make the switch of Lee-Campbell to wide receiver last season, a spot he moved to during spring practices in 2015. At that point, Sam Richardson, Grant Rohach and Lanning — who is the established starter this fall — were all ahead of him. His future at signal caller was made apparent to him.
“My heart and soul is here at Iowa State, so whatever helps the team I’m going to do it,” Lee-Campbell said. “Of course I was sour at first, kind of like, aah, but still at the same time once you get here you build relationships with all your brothers and stuff like that and I would never want to leave.”
Playing quarterback gave Lee-Campbell an understanding of defenses and where vulnerabilities would be, but the intricacies of the wide receiver position were a lot to catch up with in one season. He played in two games and caught his first career pass against Texas Tech.
“Most college receivers have been playing receiver since they were 13 if not younger than that and this is only my second year doing it, so the sky is the limit,” Lee-Campbell said. “I’m just trying to be a sponge and just learn everything as quick as possible.”
In the transition of learning from a new staff, the 6-foot-2 and 205-pound Lee-Campbell has begun to flourish. He’s watched receivers like Larry Fitzgerald of the Arizona Cardinals and how he transitions his speed in running routes and, in the opinion of the coaching staff, has made some of the most explosive plays of anyone on the roster during fall camp.
Although his hands were never his biggest concern, Lee-Campbell spent a good deal of the summer working on individual ball drills and has shown the ability to make catches at the high point. Having another receiver taller than 6-feet to compliment Allen Lazard’s frame doesn’t hurt either.
“He kind of quietly just emerges time and time again,” said wide receivers coach Bryan Gasser. “I have been very happy with Darius so far. He’s another big, physical guy and that’s the one thing that’s exciting about this group across the board.”
ISU defensive back Brian Peavy saw Lee-Campbell as a quarterback when they played against each other in high school. The attributes Lee-Campbell used that made him a successful high school quarterback are the same ones he’s starting to use as a pass-catching threat.
“He’s a smooth guy,” Peavy said. “He’ll make you think he’s going one way and then attack another way. That’s one thing I see in the transition from him going from quarterback to receiver. He’s very smooth, very calm and very patient.”
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