Feb. 19, 2021
By Greg Selber
If you watch her do her thing on the pitch, the tendency is to think, wow, she’s a natural. And as the family story goes, that is indeed the case.
“My parents saw that I was always running around a lot when I was a little kid and so they said, let’s try soccer,” said Taylor Campbell Friday. “According to them, my first game – I was like 4 years old – I was doing all these things out there, scoring a bunch of goals, and they were shocked.”
Fourteen years on and Campbell is still running around a lot, and still scoring a bunch of goals, and everyone is still sort of shocked, even though they should be used to her amazing run of excellence as the heart and soul of Vela girls’ soccer the past three-plus seasons.
At Cavazos Sports Institute Friday, Campbell signed to play college soccer at Trinity University, capping gobs of highlights, headlines, and achievement. But honestly, she was more interested in talking about the road, the journey so far, rather than where it leads for the future. What most people may not know about the greatest player in school history is that the work has always been as important as the results.
When asked to describe herself as a player, the lean, mean shooting machine answered thus: “Hard work, dedicated, that’s what first comes to mind, I think …” she began. “Like during COVID, I think I worked harder than ever, lifting and running, I was totally committed during the pandemic.”
One might think she would say something about scoring more than 150 goals in high school, which she has done, or making numerous All-Area and All-State teams, which she has done, or getting a prestigious college offer, which she has done. And that is the oddity about this superstar. Deep down, she’s not carried away with the hype, or overly concerned with the numbers.
“I think I am proud of the improvement I’ve made in four years,” said Campbell, who would certainly be on the all-time Vela team as a forward, next to the elusive and magical Chery Chavez, another goal hound who was fine enough to go to college to compete. “I am stronger now, I have filled out, but the real key is, my mental approach. I used to get upset freshman and sophomore year if I wasn’t scoring goals, but now, I am not upset about stuff like that, I have become a calm player. If stuff happens I just think, alright, fix it, and move on.”
Other observers would describe her differently, based on their perspective, of course.
They might say that Campbell has exquisite balance, terrific handles, and the ability to turn with the ball, head up and moving forward to a positive space. They would say that when she gets sight of goal, the ball always seems to turn up in the back of net, eye-blink fast. They also might note that she seems to be incredibly conditioned, way tougher than her slender frame might suggest, and absolutely homed in on the opposing goal.
But that would be to miss, to a degree, the double life the Vela celeb has lived for so long.
“People think sometimes that all I care about is scoring,” she remarked. “But really, club and high school are two different worlds. In club, I am mainly a midfielder, attacking mid or even holding. In high school sometimes I can do some tricks, score a lot of goals, but in club it’s way harder. And truly, I like that challenge.”
The other world, of Dynamo and other top-flight AAU-style teams, is about one thing. And it ain’t goals, really.
“Competitiveness, that’s what I think I got from club soccer,” Campbell explained. “You have to learn to work extra hard because everyone is really good. I learned a lot from playing with Ava and Weston [Mac High greats now playing at the next level], I saw what they were doing and I wanted to try to do better. I hardly score at all in club, really, I am in the midfield, and it’s really more my game. Like I said, I may score a lot, but I know that my game is way more than just that. And it will have to be because in college, I know it will be difficult, Trinity has a nationally ranked program and I will have to work even harder to win a spot.”
TEAM TAYLOR IN THE HOUSE
At the signing, it was Team Taylor time, following a moniker that Mario Campbell came up with; he and his wife Veronica have always been a loving, driving force behind their daughter’s tremendous success. As the select group of invitees looked on at CSI, some of the others who have been instrumental in the wondrous Campbell’s development spoke their happy piece.
CSI mastermind Jaime Cavazos praised the Vela senior for being a drama-free athlete, noting that this attribute is rare among high school players, especially girls (his words, lol). Lady SaberCat Coach Americo Cortez mentioned that Campbell is always there and always working. That is, after he read out her mammoth list of accomplishments. They still boggle the mind, really. Trainer Hugo Zuniga, a former standout with EHS back in the day, has aided her immensely with his patient and expert training on the side; he wanted Campbell to know that he has always believed in her.
Mario Campbell then put the Team Taylor mantra to work, noting that all Taylor’s coaches and trainers have been invaluable, helping her raise the bar on expectations.
“Now, we move forward, and Taylor will get a 4-year degree from a great school and make All-American at Trinity,” he deadpanned, and with this force of nature, one is always sure that when he speaks, he means what he says, in the best of ways.
Tay Campbell noted that her parents have always been there for her, with her. And that their constructive criticism has been one of the items that has made her tougher, more disciplined, and more ambitious. It’s infinitely more than just about the money it takes to train and travel, and the time invested therein.
“They will be hard on me, critical at times, for the right reasons,” said the Lady Sabes’ captain. “For instance, when I would lose my temper, freshman year say, they would tell me, ‘That won’t work in college, it’s too baby … get it together.’ They would let me have it when I needed to do something better and that has helped so much. I see now that they knew my potential and they just wanted me to be able to reach it.”
It’s all about toughness and discipline, and Campbell knows that the experiences she’s had, the support from parents and coaches, have assisted in turning the 4-year-old phenom into a mature young adult about to stride forth into the next adventure.
“Club too, helped me grow up and get stronger,” she laughed. “When I first started out, I was getting knocked around a bunch. From that I learned I had to work hard, get stronger, and learn how to better control my body … to keep from getting pushed around. Training and lifting, along with the mental aspect, these are the things that have been most important in the development of my game.”
THE NEXT CHALLENGES
The development leads to San Antonio and a shot with one of the finest small college programs in the country. But first, unfinished business. The Lady Sabes won a co-title last season under Cortez but were denied the final regular season match they needed to take the trophy alone. The playoffs were washed away as well by the pandemic, and now, almost a year later, Vela is leading the league and has one of the top sides in the Valley. Campbell and fellow senior – and trusty training partner – Ky Richards, have their mental guns loaded.
“Coach Cortez told me that there’s a good chance that we will be playing – and this is wild – Saturday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. We’ve had some games pushed back because of COVID and it looks like the next week is going to be pretty crazy.”
Five games in seven days. Daunting task, and yet, with a superbly conditioned athlete, a disciplined superstar, it should be quite a ride. Essentially, her high school persona will seek to score as many goals as possible, while still playing the team game and finding teammates when they get open. Campbell is an absolutely underrated passer, facts. But her other self, the club-built working-and-improving machine, will focus on results, wins, and whatever the playoffs have in store for her school.
When people say that Taylor Campbell is all about the goals, they have it right, and not so right. The Goal isn’t just goals, the Goal is to be the best player she can be, get the most out of her prodigious ability, keep on working to get even better, and go deep in the playoffs.