CFLer Tevaughn Campbell crosses over to rugby 7s

He once thought the sport was "crazy," but Tevaughn Campbell is now hooked on rugby sevens and the CFL free agent is looking to crack Canada's national team.

Defensive back brings speed, profile as Sevens Series season opens in Dubai

Tevaughn Campbell will begin his rugby career with Canada's developmental squad alongside the senior team when the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series season begins in Dubai this week. (Michael Bell/The Canadian Press)

It took some convincing, but as a football player at the University of Regina, Tevaughn Campbell eventually came around to the idea of trying a sport that he regarded as "crazy."

All the while, those who saw what he was capable of on the gridiron, and as a track star, were eager to introduce Campbell to rugby sevens.

"One of my friends back in college always told me he did it, and he would go on and say 'Come play rugby,' but I was indifferent about it," says Campbell, who's currently a CFL free agent.

"I just didn't want to do it. I thought it was a crazy sport and I was mostly thinking about 15s [the traditional version of rugby]."

Despite his initial reluctance, Campbell accepted an invitation from Rugby Canada to attend a World Rugby Sevens Series event last March in Vancouver, where he discovered a much different game than he had imagined.

Campbell had made waves when he set a CFL scouting combine record in 2015 by running the 40-yard dash in 4.355 seconds, so it was the defensive back's blistering speed that caught the attention of Canadian sevens coach Damian McGrath.

"Initially when we saw his times for the 40 yards, that really peaked our interest," McGrath says over the phone from San Francisco, where his squad was preparing for this week's Sevens Series season opener in Dubai.

"Then when I realized the position he plays — he was used to the forwards and backwards movements and he could defend. That attracted me even more."

The Scarborough, Ont., native did not have any prior experience with rugby, but McGrath felt there was potential for the 24-year-old on the pitch.

"We brought him into camp to do a little bit of work with us and he picked up the basics quickly," says McGrath. "Tevaughn has all the attributes to [be] successful in rugby." 

Taste of success

Campbell was also coming around to the idea of playing rugby sevens, and travelling along with the team on the Asian leg of its season last April may have tipped the scales.

The timing of the trip certainly helped, as Campbell had a front-row seat in Singapore to witness Canada's first-ever Cup final win in a Sevens Series event.

"I had my cell phone with me and was just taking a bunch of pictures," Campbell recalls fondly. "The guys were super excited and you could tell on their faces, especially because they've played the game for so long and gone so long without a gold medal at any of the series stops.

"So just to see the excitement and how proud and grateful they were to win that gold medal showed me a lot about the sport and a lot about the team."

Campbell says he was offered playing time in Singapore, but with his lack of both playing experience and knowledge of the rules, he decided it was better to stay out of the way of a title run.

With the CFL now in its off-season, Campbell will join a development team that will play its own set of games in Dubai. The ultimate goal is for Campbell to suit up for a World Series stage in the near future.

Meanwhile, Campbell is also aiming to find stability in the early days of his CFL career. The six-foot, 195-pounder spent the 2015 season as a rookie with the Calgary Stampeders, was dealt to the Saskatchewan Roughriders in February 2016, and was dealt again in August to the Montreal Alouettes.

"I take it day by day. I don't look at it as a negative or a positive," Campbell says of his football aspirations. "I look at it as continue to grind, continue to work through adversity and hopefully stick with a team one day and carry on." 

As he tries to catch on with a CFL team for next season, Campbell believes his football career can benefit from his playing rugby in the off-season.

"Rugby teaches you about a lot of specific techniques when it comes to tackling, or when it comes to running the ball or anything really," he says.

Always on the go 

Playing two sports can be tough on the body, but Campbell is taking a "use it while you got it" approach during his athletic prime. For his part, coach McGrath wants to exercise caution when managing Campbell's workload.

"I don't think personally he can do it across 12 months of the year," McGrath says.

"The body needs and deserves a break, so I think we'll have to be careful how we manage it and we'll certainly put Tevaughn's best interests first rather than trying to squeeze too much blood out of a stone."

Overall, McGrath is open to the idea of working with the CFL to promote more crossover between the sports.

"We would love to [work with the CFL]," he says. "We don't want to be seen as a threat or a competitor to them. We'd like to see a lot of crossovers and transfers of skills from both sides.

"The CFL is big news in Canada and it would be great to work alongside them and get rugby out there."

For now, though, McGrath speaks highly of what Campbell brings to the program.

"Tevaughn is great publicity and it keeps everyone on their toes when they know that we're not just looking in rugby for players for Canada Sevens. It's players from all walks of life and everybody has to be on their mettle."


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