Tevaughn Campbell, Alouettes DB, looking forward to rejoining Canadian rugby sevens

Tevaughn Campbell won’t have long to dwell upon the Montreal Alouettes’ disappointing 2017 season.

Montreal (3-12) will miss the CFL playoffs for a third straight year. But not long after the Alouettes’ final regular-season game Nov. 3 in Hamilton, Campbell will return to B.C. to train with the Canadian rugby sevens squad.

The speedy defensive back got a taste of the wide-open sevens game last April when he worked out with the squad on its trip to Hong Kong and Singapore. Campbell vows he’ll report in peak condition after learning the hard way about the physical demands of the game.

“We did a practice and the coach said, ‘OK, we’ll do one seven-minute go,’ which was a seven-minute scrimmage,” he said. “I’m thinking, ‘OK, this is going to be easy.’

“It was probably the longest seven minutes of my life. There was no stopping, as soon as you got tackled you got back up and you were running for the ball. It was tiring.”

Canada finished eighth in the World Series last year but won the competition in Singapore, its first-ever in 140 circuit events. The squad could also be bolstered by the return of Adam Zaruba in January if he doesn’t land with another NFL club.

The six-foot-five, 265-pound Zaruba was released by the Philadelphia Eagles in September after trying to crack the roster as a tight end. He continues to explore his NFL options.

Campbell only practised with the Canadian team. He said he was offered an opportunity to play in the championship game in Singapore but declined because he didn’t want his inexperience to hurt Canada in the final.

The upcoming World Series season begins in Dubai in early December and will consist of 10 events, including one in Vancouver in March.

Campbell admits he knew little about rugby when he joined the national team. He never really considered playing the sport until attending a World Series sevens contest in Vancouver.

“My brother used to play rugby in high school and he’d always come home with a busted face or messed up shoulder,” Campbell said. “So I was always, ‘No, I’ll stay away from rugby.’

“But when I checked out the series stop in Vancouver it was much different than I expected. You’ve got some really big guys who run like they have the lungs of a distance runner. I’m just amazed at how big some of these guys are yet they can still manage to keep going in sevens.”

While the six-foot, 195-pound Campbell might be light on rugby experience, Canadian coach Damian McGrath said the former Regina Rams star has a very unique skillset.

“He’s got that one thing you can’t add to people, which is out-and-out speed,” said McGrath. “Also because of the position he plays in the CFL, he’s used to moving side-to-side and backwards-to-forwards.”

Campbell holds the CFL combine’s 40-yard dash record of 4.35 seconds set in 2015. The Toronto native was Canadian university’s 60-metre sprint champion in 2016 and the runner-up in ’15 and ’17.

Aside from conditioning, Campbell said the transition from football to rugby has generally been a smooth one, with one perk. Playing on the wing, he’s able to run with the ball, something he did at Regina when he returned punts and kicks.

“Handling the ball is a lot of fun,” Campbell said. “Back in my college days I did a lot of returning punts and kickoffs and that always got me very hyped for games.”

As a defensive back, Campbell knows how to tackle. But unlike football where defensive players live to make bone-crunching hits, Campbell said there’s a very strict discipline involved with rugby.

“In sevens, especially the position I play, I think the game is more technical because there’s so much room on the field,” he said. “You can’t just try to sprint up and lay a big hit on someone.

“When you tackle you have to make sure you wrap your opponent up. Sometimes you know you’re not going to make the tackle because your opponent is going to pass the ball so you want to force him to the sidelines and give him less room to work and maybe force him to make a bad pass.”

There’s also the matter of little down time in rugby sevens matches.

“When you get tackled you’ve got to get right up and back into formation,” he said. “If you lag behind and a player squeaks through your lane then that’s on you.

“Every person on the field is very dependant on the guy behind them and that makes rugby much more technical.”

Campbell isn’t Montreal’s only two-sport athlete, as veteran receiver Sam Giguere also competes for Canada’s national bobsled program. Campbell said his rugby experience has helped him become a more versatile CFL player.

“Our special-teams co-ordinator (Bruce Read) asked because I played rugby if I could kick,” Campbell said. “So I stayed after practice and kicked some punts and field goals.”

Despite his foray into rugby, Campbell still wants to continue playing football. He’s scheduled to become a free agent in February but ideally would like to remain in Montreal and help the Alouettes return to the CFL playoffs.

“You make friends on every team you go to,” Campbell said. “But I think I’ve established a bond with the guys here.

“This has been kind of a learning year for most of us so if we can all come back next year and compete as a team, that would be great. I don’t mind facing adversity, I’ve been facing it most of my life.”