Driven to succeed: 2019 grad lands job with Nebraska Huskers

Feb 06, 2020
CJ Campbell

CJ Campbell graduated from Newman University in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in sports communication and a minor in art. Less than four months later, his dream job came knocking and he became the director of graphic design for the University of Nebraska football program.

Campbell created many opportunities to gain experience in the field of sports communication as he prepared for an opportunity to use his degree.

“I don’t want others to presume I struck gold on my first try because I didn’t,” Campbell said. “I failed so many times before I finally found success. In essence, to get to where I am today required tremendous sacrifice, a bit of desperation and a willingness to go absolutely anywhere to achieve my dream.”

Before his senior year at Newman began, Campbell realized he would need tangible work experience in the field of social media sports if he ever planned on advancing in the industry. He decided to live with his brother in Tampa during the summer while volunteering for the University of South Florida Athletic Department.

This opportunity helped him gain a greater understanding of Division 1 intercollegiate athletics and how they function and operate on a day-to-day basis.

University of Nebraska Huskers Logo

“It was undoubtedly the best summer of my life and as it reached a conclusion, I returned to Newman with a fresh and inspired perspective where I decided to reinvent myself and continue to invest in my passion.”

He returned to Newman for his final year and received support from his roommate and best friend, current student Thor Balavage, who persuaded him to email schools all across the country in search of a similar opportunity, reminding him that receiving a “no” doesn’t cost anything.

Campbell got busy sending emails to hundreds of athletic departments in America. Months went by with no takers but he never once felt defeated.

Newman allowed me to learn very quickly that failure and uncertainty are critical components necessary on the path to success,” he said. “We learn way more from our failures than we ever do from the occasions where we do obtain success. Nonetheless, it is in times of uncertainty and struggles where we find out who we really are. Those are the vulnerable moments we have to condition ourselves to embrace because it yields greatness in all of us.”

Thankfully, his email efforts paid off. After sending numerous resumés, he received a response from the Oregon State University (OSU) football program who offered him an interview that ultimately led to a graphic design internship.

After being turned down by hundreds of athletic departments, Campbell now successfully had one foot in the door. He used his time with OSU as a substitute for his co-op educational experience throughout his final semester at Newman.

Campbell said he will be forever thankful for the chance OSU took on him. However, once he completed his internship, it was time to prepare for a full-time opportunity post-graduation.

Campbell applied to more than 50 athletic programs with vacancies and finally got a call from the University of Cincinnati (UC), offering him a position on the football creative staff. He excitedly packed up and moved to Cincinnati just five days after commencement.

Campbell was born in Emporia, Kansas but spent most of his childhood in Bowling Green, Ohio, and was thrilled at returning to the state.

CJ with his father, JD, at Pinnacle Bank Arena in Lincoln, Nebraska.

“I spent my entire summer in Cincinnati eager to further immerse myself in the world of college football,” he said. “Naturally, it was incredibly stressful and overwhelming, but I loved the work I was doing. I believed that I was going to be at UC for years building their brand and it was great being back in Ohio altogether. Looking back on it, there was so much to be excited about. However, the greatest gifts in life occur when you least expect them.”

Roughly two months later, Campbell received a direct message on Twitter from Orah Garst, director of football creative and engagement for the Nebraska Huskers. Garst had stumbled upon Campbell’s work and encouraged him to apply and be a part of his creative team. Garst gave “a convincing recruiting pitch” that Campbell said he’d never forget.

“At Nebraska, it’s all about family. We win, we lose and we work together as a family every single day. I became intrigued by this potential opportunity because I knew this place was going to make me the best man I could be. I also understood I was going to be placed in a setting where I would inevitably be able to improve, while also being challenged in every facet of my life at the same time.

“There’s no one better to learn this notion from than Coach Frost. He has implemented a culture that emphasizes ‘having a desire to excel and no fear of failure.’ That form of culture eliminates all self-doubt and yields possibility when it comes to creative innovation and productivity on and off the field.”

Receiving a job offer not even three months into starting a new job created unwanted anxiety for Campbell. Ultimately, he decided to risk it all and take the dream job with the Huskers.

“Little did I realize that Nebraska football was the family I never knew I actually needed,” he said. “I never found Nebraska. I suppose you could say Nebraska found me at the perfect time.”

Campbell’s tenure with the Husker football program began in August 2019. He enjoys the excitement and challenges that come with being in his position. A Big Ten school such as Nebraska expects high-level work from its creative team in order to keep its local and national fans connected to its brand.

As director of graphic design, Campbell prepares and provides dynamic graphic designs for all social media platforms. He says he intends to tell a story through every constructed piece of content.

He works on various pieces of creative content, ranging from birthday graphics for potential recruits to holiday cards and general mailers.

“Being in the Big Ten has presented me with the tremendous opportunity of being exposed to one of the premier football and intercollegiate athletic conferences in our country. Moreover, the geographical diversity throughout the conference has resulted in extensive market exposure ranging from New York City all the way to Lincoln, Nebraska. I have learned to whom much is given, much is required in return.”

CJ with his mother, Kerri,  in West Lafayette, Indiana

Campbell has expressed gratitude for his time at Newman and how it prepared him for his creative career in sports.

Born in Kansas, living the majority of his childhood in Ohio and eventually moving to Indiana, Campbell wasn’t tied to any one state when it came to his college search. His parents, both Newman alumni, encouraged him to look into Newman because of their positive experiences. An added perk was rekindling his relationship with his grandmother while in Wichita.

“In retrospect, I believe God placed me at Newman for a reason,” he said.

Professor of communication Suzanne Berg, in particular, played a significant role in helping him find his passion, expand his studies and turn his talent into a viable career.

“As my junior year transpired, I developed a hobby in sport-related graphic design because it was quickly becoming a field of work in high demand. Learning these skills would make me more valuable in the long run. So, I taught myself the basics of Photoshop, but Dr. Berg knew I could learn even more if I decided to pursue a minor in art.

“I took her advice into account and never looked back. Little did I know that art would eventually become an outlet for me to become even more of an anomaly.”

Campbell discovered his niche by marrying sports and art.  

“I always had a purpose in mind and my intent was to maximize all of the resources that were made readily available to students (at Newman). It became a place where I was able to channel my inner peace as the years progressed. I found out who I was and I grew perfectly content with accepting who God made me to be.

“I made my fair share of mistakes during my time there, and I failed at achieving many other personal goals that I thought possessed importance during those years, but instead of allowing those inadequacies to define me, I chose to allow them to refine who I was as time went on. It felt as though all the pieces of the puzzle fell in place by my senior year and instead of trying to please people, my identity was truly found in attempting to please God in everything I did,” he said.

Campbell believes the university taught him to be an original and not to care what others think by inspiring him to create goals for himself that others may not believe in or understand.

He added that Berg made quite an impact on his life and he still carries her legacy with him wherever he goes. “I know she’s proud of who I’ve become,” he said.

Asked about what he foresees in his future, Campbell states, “That’s a question I can’t provide a concrete answer for.”

For now, he intends to live day by day.

“I expect great success, but more importantly, I expect to become a man who makes everyone around him better. People will remember me for who I was and not for what I accomplished in this lifetime. That in itself is far more important than any composition of art I end up producing. Nebraska has already given me more than I could ever imagine. It’s only right for me to give everything I have for Nebraska in return.”