T.C. Williams High School lost a skilled and admired former student-athlete in January when Julius Campbell, class of 1973, died at age 65 from congestive heart failure.
A local football legend, defensive lineman Campbell helped lead the Titans to the 1971 AAA Virginia State Championship. The final 27-0 victory over the Andrew Lewis High School football team (Salem, VA) mimicked many Friday night and Saturday afternoon results when T.C. shut out opponents nine times. The 1971 Titan defense allowed 45 points total, an average of 3.4 points a game.
Julius Campbell was gentle, vigilant and calm. But in a football uniform, his personality spun a full 180. “Julius played angry but he wasn’t an angry individual,” said his Head Coach at T.C., Herman Boone. “He was big, agile, mobile and hostile. He’d pursue on the left and also be involved in a play on the right. Runners couldn’t run away from him. Julius would hit a brick building if it was in his way.”
Tom Lewis, a center on the Titan team, remembered from practices that “blocking Julius was like hitting a tree trunk,” he said. “Games were a relief after blocking him in practice. He had a determination that wouldn’t stop.”
Integrating the T.C. Titans
Campbell started high school one year after Martin Luther King was killed and four years after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in the summer of 1964. Desegregation of the Alexandria schools was not going smoothly in 1970-71. But Julius was a visionary in bringing together black and white teammates who were reluctant to embrace one another. For many students at T.C., it was the first time they had sat in class or the cafeteria with members of the other race.
“There wasn’t a racist bone in his body,” said his widow Kathleen. “We felt the same way. To Julius, people were people. He never brought ‘color’ into it. Julius was a peacemaker.”
And he needed to be a peacemaker on the Titans football team.
The summer before his first year in the job, Coach Boone took the team for a two-week training camp in Gettysburg (PA) College. “We needed to get the kids out of Alexandria,” said Boone. “Alexandria was raging with hate.”
During that camp, players mingled and started to become friends. Julius took the lead. “Players listened, since nobody was going to challenge him,” Boone said. “When Julius spoke, even the coaches listened. One night, he addressed the team, saying ‘A team is a group of people with one vision. But before we can be a team, we need to have one heartbeat.’”
A career calls
After graduation, Campbell played one season at historic Ferrum College (Ferrum, VA) and hoped to transfer to Ohio State, but an ankle injury and family illness brought Julius back to Alexandria. “Basically, he left college to take care of his ailing father,” said Boone. “Julius was committed to his family.”
Julius may have heard a career calling long before he tackled running backs for losses across the football fields of Northern Virginia. His deep love of animals was known by all his friends and associates.
“The only conflict I had with Julius were the reptiles he’d bring into my office,” said Boone. “He’d hide a snake in there and later I’d be at my desk and the snake would crawl out and look at me.”
Campbell worked for Prince George’s County and the City of Alexandria Animal Control departments, which is where he met Kathleen.
“Julius had an enthusiasm for animals,” she said. “If there was an alligator on the loose, he’d want to go get it. If there was a bull running wild in the woods, he wanted to be there to catch it.”
And although he never played again, Campbell followed the Washington Redskins and he enjoyed Titan football reunions when players addressed high school assemblies, informing students from another generation how their Titan team helped calm the integration waters of the early 1970s.
His Winning Legacy
Offensive tackle Fred Alderson, who’d had to face Campbell across the line in practice, said, “He was a competitor from the word go. Julius’s motor was always running.”
Alderson laughed to recall a drill Boone used in practice. Once it involved a defensive player (Campbell) and an offensive player (Alderson) each holding a padded dummy. Behind Alderson was a running back. “I told coach Boone, ‘You gotta’ be kidding me. I’m in a three-point stance and Julius is ready to tear me up.’”
Split end Steve Billingsley remembered going to a junior varsity basketball game once only to see Campbell playing center. “He was Charles Barkley before Charles Barkley, only not as tall,” Billingsley said. “Big and wide with quickness and strength. He had it all. He’d push the offensive tackle around and take the edge, part of a defense that smothered offenses.”
Arnold Oates was principal of T.C. Williams from 1970 to 1973. On a recent message board he wrote, “In my many years of professional service to public education, I still regard the years at T.C. Williams as the highlight in my career. Julius is one of those students I remember with great fondness.”
“My mother used to say to me when Julius and I visited, ‘You are standing in the presence of greatness,’” recalled Kathleen Campbell. “He’d just beam. I loved him from the first day I saw him.”
Editor’s Note: The writer was a ’73 classmate of Julius Campbell, who reports that the closest he came to the football field was sitting on the wooden bleacher boards to cheer on his Titans.