Tevaughn Campbell: Swapping sacks for sevens in the Canadian Football League's off-season

Tevaughn Campbell took the stride from American football in the CFL to rugby sevens.
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Story highlights

  • Tevaughn Campbell is a Canadian American football and rugby player
  • Campbell, originally from Ontario, has played for a number of CFL teams
  • Last year, during the offseason, he switched to rugby sevens

Alan Dymock is the Features Editor for Rugby World magazine.

(CNN)The path from rugby into American Football has been well trodden in recent years.

Earlier this month, former Worcester Warriors lock Christian Williamson-Scotland signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers through the NFL's International Player Pathway.
Last year, Alex Gray -- formerly of the England sevens team -- joined the Atlanta Falcons through the same system.
    One gridiron gladiator, however, went the other way.
    It was Tevaughn Campbell a now-unattached defensive back and punt-returner who set out to represent Canada in the World Sevens Series.
    Sevens is a reduced version a rugby, with seven players on each time instead of the usual 15.
    "I've personally never had any experience of playing any rugby until this season, in December," Campbell reveals to CNN.
    His brother had played the other oval-ball game at high school, but Campbell had always been put off by the legacy of scars and bruises his brother was left with thanks to rugby.
    Instead he focused on track and field and, later, football.
    So how did he get involved with sevens?
    Campbell explains: "A former player (Robin McDowell) came up to me at university, in Regina. He was preaching his case, trying to get me to try out for the team.
    "I rejected him a couple of times because I didn't want to play rugby; I didn't like the sport. It was probably a little too rough for me -- I was obviously thinking more about 15s at that point. I didn't even know sevens existed.
    McDowell then invited Campbell to the Vancouver leg of the Sevens World Series, an offer that was accepted.
    There, he met the Canadian team's head coach Damian McGrath who suggest Campbell join the team in Hong Kong and Singapore.
    "Being me," said Campbell, "I didn't turn that down so I went there and had a great experience and I decided to come back this year and try it out myself."
    Campbell turning out for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL.

    Learning the rules

    Last year, Campbell found himself listed as 23rd man for two series legs in Asia, though he did not feature. Having seen the energy and atmosphere of a sevens event first hand, he then witnessed Canada win a World Series leg for the first time in its history, in Singapore. He was impressed.
    It is understandable that Canada would court the 24-year-old flier. Campbell is honest enough to see that his country wish to find a crossover star like Perry Baker, who is currently leading try-scoring charts for the USA.
    Campbell is quicksilver.
    "I have a knack for breaking records," he calmly states.
    At school he broke a 60m sprint record. He won a university track final one off-season. Perhaps most impressive, though, the University of Regina alumni broke the 40-yard dash record at the Canadian Football League Combine, screaming in at 4.355s in 2015.
    Of course, you can have all of the physical tools needed to succeed at a sport. It does not guarantee you will shine. So once Cambell decided that he would play sevens before returning to the CFL, the learning curve began its steep upward climb.
    "My first tournament was a development one in Dubai, and for me even just going to Dubai was an eye-opener," says Campbell, who had only ventured out of North America for the first time the year before.
    "Then stepping on the field for a new sport -- not knowing any of the rules really -- it was definitely different.
    "The main hurdle was just learning the rules. In some games I'd literally stand on the field and ask the ref, 'What's going on?' Because I had no idea.
    "I'd be asking players during the game, 'Okay, what's happening now?' I picked it up pretty fast and the coach offered me to come on the World Series stage."
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    Which all sounds like an impressive turnaround, but there have been misunderstandings too, which Campbell is able to laugh about now.
    "At one point the ref called for a penalty. I wasn't very familiar, but he blew the whistle and put his arm up," he explains.
    "I had the ball for some reason, and I heard everyone say 'Kick it and go!' So I tapped it on my foot and ran for the end zone. There was a moment of pause, where I started running and then stopped, and everyone else started stopping on the field because they were confused about why I was stopping. It was a domino effect."
    Campbell scored. A happy moment, but one made all the sweeter, he says, because fans from all over were cheering for him while he had a maple leaf on his chest.

    Looking for a team

    Campbell was called in for his first series leg in Hamilton. He scored his first series try, streaking in down the left wing in a substitute appearance.
    He would feature in five tournaments, with the home leg in Vancouver coming after New Zealand, before stops in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Singapore. He scored eight tries in 25 appearances.
    In a flash, the flirtation with rugby is over as quickly as it started. Campbell had signed a fresh contract for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL but has just been released. He is on the lookout for another team, telling CNN: "Right now, I'm just a guy waiting for someone to pick me up, but the path is the same and the future is bright."
    It is never a settled life in the CFL. Described by many as "cutthroat", Campbell had his eyes open when he joined out of university. Drafted by the Calgary Stampeders, he has been traded to the Saskatchewan Roughriders and then later the Alouettes, where he was let go in the build-up to their preseason games.
    "I wouldn't say it's politics, but not a lot of Canadians get a starting position in the CFL," explains Campbell. "Especially at my position, corner. There's not really any starting Canadian corners in the CFL and that's always where I've set my game to: being a starting corner, not a back-up or solely a special teams player.
    "That's maybe where teams didn't see me in the past. They didn't see a Canadian corner on their defense. So that's kinda where I got bumped around a bit."
    Asked if he will continue in gridiron, rather than rugby, he replies: "As of right now, yes."
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    However, he had previously told CNN: "Would I consider a switch back after (football)? I don't know. We will have to see where the ball rolls. I'd definitely give the sevens serious consideration. It's a great programme with a great group of guys and I think I could really fit in the rugby world."