Harry Ainlay High School on Edmonton’s south side is as close to a football factory as it gets in Alberta.
Young players from all over strive to play for the Titans. Some even go on to have future success in the game. From the mid-70s through the 90s, the team was a fixture in the city finals.
But one season in the late 80s, coach Bryan Anderson had a dilemma. A talented young quarterback from northern Alberta had enrolled at the school. But the boy’s father, unhappy with his son’s living arrangements, pulled him out of the program and moved him to Calgary. The problem, Anderson says, was Ainlay’s backup quarterback had already quit when he realized he wasn’t going to start ahead of the new kid.
“Boom, no QB,” Anderson recalls.
So the coach turned to his to his Swiss Army Knife – 12th-grader Rick Campbell. Campbell had played every position on offence except lineman and quarterback in his time at the school.
“I called him into the office before practice to meet with the QB coach – who was having a panic attack – and me and explained the situation to Rick,” Anderson recalls.
“He was our most teachable player and certainly a team guy. When I asked him if he was interested in filling in for our missing QBs, he said, ‘let’s get at it.”’
Anderson doesn’t recall how that season turned out, but Campbell does remember winning a provincial championship with the Titans during his time at the school. Campbell, now head coach with the CFL’s Ottawa Redblacks, will lead his team onto the field in the Grey Cup Sunday in Edmonton, the city where he was essentially born and raised. Campbell’s father, Hugh, is a legend in the city.
After an all-star career with as a receiver with the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 1960s and a stint coaching college football in Washington State, Hugh Campbell came to Edmonton as head coach of the Eskimos in 1977. Rick was seven when Hugh Campbell led the Edmonton team to a Grey Cup in 1978 – the first of five in a row for the team.
“Obviously Edmonton has been a big part of my life and I definitely have a love for this city and always will,” Rick Campbell said Wednesday.
“We know a lot of people in this city and it has been great to me and great to my family.”
Rick Campbell’s coaching career has taken him all over the CFL, including two stops as an assistant in Edmonton, where his father made his name. On Sunday, he has a chance to do something his father never was able to do – hoist the Grey Cup in the Alberta capital in the stadium where his dad’s name hangs on the sidelines.
“I know I am in Edmonton, but it is a work week for me and I am going to do whatever I can to play good football on Sunday and then maybe have more time to reflect on it after this week,” he says.
And Ainlay will be watching, cheering its famous alumnus on. The school has a leadership award named after Rick Campbell that they give out each year. That is, of course, after the Titans take care of some business of their own. The team plays in the provincial finals on Saturday night in Fort McMurray. And the Redblacks coach may just take a peek at the final score of that game while he prepares for his big showdown Sunday.
“I will be rooting hard for them,” Rick Campbell says.