Email the author | Follow on Twitter
on April 27, 2015 at 2:55 PM, updated April 27, 2015 at 3:16 PM
PISCATAWAY — When Brian Brecht says he wishes he had 40 players like Campbell Sode on his Rutgers men’s lacrosse team, the Scarlet Knights coach isn’t just talking about Sode’s work ethic on the field.
“Obviously the way he goes about his work, not just on the field but in the classroom, he’s a very hard-working, diligent person,” Brecht said. “What a first-class student-athlete. You’re talking about someone with a 4.0 through four years of college, which speaks for itself. He’s just focused. He wants to be great. He wants to be great in the classroom. He wants to be great in every drill. Certainly there’s no doubt that he’s helped grow our program. He’s rubbed off on a lot of young guys.”
In addition to recording an unblemished grade-point-average, Sode is a representative onRutgers’ Student-Athlete Advisory Council and volunteers his time with initiatives such as Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen, the Ronald McDonald House, Big Chill Run and Charity Toy Drive, Habitat for Humanity, and the American Red Cross.
He was recently honored by the Big Ten for his achievements in academics, athletics, extracurricular activities and leadership, receiving a $10,000 post-graduate scholarship once he graduates next month with a degree in labor studies and history.
A member of Rutgers University’s prestigious School of Arts and Sciences Honors Program, Sode will attend law school this fall at the University of Virginia, with the goal to one day serve as an advocate for those who suffer from hearing impairments like his own.
“I wouldn’t really characterize my condition of being deaf as all that remarkable to be honest with you because it doesn’t have too much of a bearing on my life on a daily basis other than some minor stuff,” Sode said in an email exchange last week. “I was born with severe hearing loss in both ears thanks to a recessive genetic trait, meaning that I had virtually no natural hearing from a very young age. I received a cochlear implant at the age of nine and I now have hearing in the range of a normal person as defined by formalized audiological parameters thanks to the implant.”
Sode wrapped up his collegiate lacrosse field this past Sunday, earning his first career start as the Scarlet Knights upset No. 10 Ohio State, 17-10, for their first ever Big Ten Conference win and their first upset of a top-10 foe since 2003.
Sode was never the star of the Rutgers lacrosse program, but the 5-9, 187-pound Dallas native collected two goals, two assists and 24 groundballs while manning the midfield over a 35-game career.
“Campbell’s the type of player who’s going 100 miles per hour every time he’s out there, never a shortage of effort when he’s playing,” said Joe Nardella, the Scarlet Knights’ senior captain who scored two goals in addition to winning 19-of-28 faceoffs (68 percent) Sunday in the biggest win of Brecht’s four-year tenure. “Campbell’s a guy you can always count on to give effort every time he steps on the field.”
Brecht calls Sode “one of the best teammates” he’s ever coached, pointing to the way the Academic All-American mentors the players on the team.
“He’s done a great job of every year taking the young guys under his wing and he’s been a great mentor to all the young guys academically and work-ethic wise throughout his four-year career,” Brecht said. “If he decides to open up his own law practice, if he decides to run for Senator, if he becomes a businessman, a husband, a father, whatever he does, he’s going to be very successful just because of his high IQ and his work ethic.”
U.S. Army Ranger veteran Patrick McCabe plays lacrosse at Rutgers after 3 tours in Afghanistan
Nardella, who earlier this spring became one of 20 finalists nationally for the Senior CLASS Award (which recognizes achievements in community, classroom, character and competition), says the entire team is impressed by Sode’s achievements off the field.
“Everyone calls him ‘the brain’ because he’s known as the smartest guy on the team,” Nardella said. “If anybody has any homework trouble they’re always going to him. Everyone is impressed by how dedicated he is to everything he wants to accomplish. People see him putting in the hard work and it’s contagious.”
While he understands the obstacles Sode has overcome, Nardella said Sode doesn’t let his hearing impairment affect him on the field.
“He really doesn’t see it as any sort of disability,” Nardella said. “He doesn’t expect or want to be treated any different than anybody else. So I don’t see any communication issue with him on the field. I think he can understand everything just fine.”
Brecht, however, admitted there were times when communication from the sideline was an issue.
“He’s legally deaf,” Brecht said. “When you sit down with him and talk to him face to face, he can read lips. There’s no miscommunication as far as conversations go. But sometimes, in a contact sport, on a field that’s 110 yards long, there are some grey areas where it’s a struggle. But he does such a great job being aware of his surroundings that his other senses kind of take over for the lack of hearing. That’s the thing that’s challenging.
“But to see him be a 4.0 student, and compete on game-day at this level that we’re at, you definitely marvel at what he’s been able to accomplish with the hurdles that he’s overcome.”
Sode recently sat down with NJ.com to answer a series of questions on the obstacles he’s overcome. Here are his responses:
Q: How long have you been playing lacrosse?
Sode: “I have been playing lacrosse since I was 10. I was lucky enough to come across a televised NCAA tournament game between Harvard and Virginia one day and I was hooked from that moment onward. I immediately picked up a stick, attended a few summer camps to learn basic skills and joined my town’s youth league the following season. I was lucky enough to start lacrosse at the perfect time as the youth league started with 5th grade teams and so on, and I picked the game up between fourth and fifth grade.”
Q: What drew you to the sport, and were there any other sports that piqued your interest growing up?
Sode: “I played literally every single sport growing up, whether it was fall soccer starting in kindergarten, basketball, tackle football, baseball and track as Highland Park has well-established youth leagues for all of those sports. I would say that I was most interested in football until I picked up lacrosse. However, once I started playing lacrosse, I gradually lost interest in other sports and started focusing on cross country, track and lacrosse starting in the seventh grade.”
Q: In what ways do you think you’re limited on the playing field as a result of your hearing impairment?
Sode: “I played attack in high school and my concentration on the offensive side of the game meant that I wasn’t limited at all as my high school ran a formation-based motion offense without set play calls and we were free to just play off of one another as long as we maintained our structural soundness and didn’t make bad lacrosse IQ plays such as throwing passes through a maze of sticks or shooting from well outside of our range. When I got to college, I was moved from attack to the midfield and I had to adjust to the defensive side of the game as I had never really been asked to take on a defensive role, but the coaches saw potential there because of my athleticism and they asked me to stick it out and see what happened.
“I had a hard time adjusting to that aspect of the game because I had low spatial awareness as far as defensive positioning went, but my coaches did an unbelievable job of drilling defensive basics into me and I was eventually able to catch on to the point where I’ve participated in (35) career games as a defensive midfielder.
“There’s certainly a lot of communication on the defensive side of the field, but lacrosse is a fast-moving game and we have to adjust on the fly, so good spatial awareness becomes so important as guys are all focused on their assignments and there’s not a lot of opportunities to communicate on the fly. One thing that makes it easy for me is we usually want to maintain spatial integrity in the 10-yard box right in front of the goal and our goalies do a great job of quarterbacking the defense so I haven’t had too many issues with missed assignments or anything like that, but they do happen from time to time, however, that happens to everyone so it’s not unique to me.”
Q: Your academic accomplishments speak for themselves. How have you managed to carry the work load that you do, balancing athletics and academics with such aplomb?
Sode: “Honestly, I’m able to balance athletics, academics and my social life because I’ve essentially mastered the skill of compartmentalization to the nth degree. I essentially focus entirely on class when I’m in an academic environment and I devote all of my energy to lacrosse when I’m in that athletic atmosphere, but I always understood that you have to have balance in your life so I’ve always tried to focus on tasks that are relevant at the moment rather than dwelling on things that happened in the past or may happen in the future. Compartmentalization is actually a really powerful focusing mechanism as it enables you to achieve peak performance in a wide variety of areas as it helps you avoid having mishaps in certain areas of your life bleed over into others.
“For example, if I had a bad practice, I wouldn’t let that affect me while I was writing papers or studying for a test. Conversely, if I had a big academic assignment coming up, I would just not think about it at all when I hit the practice field or the game field and that allowed me to maintain my focus and intensity level on a consistent basis. It also helps to take everything on a one-by-one basis, as in focusing on the rep at hand to the exclusion of all else as that helps you get in the habit of focusing on what’s happening in the moment rather than any extraneous stuff.
“As far as my social life goes, I’ve managed that by always keeping a mental to-do list and I’ve always been good about picking my spots. For example, if I know that I have a big paper or a test coming up, I’ll simply not go out because I know it’s worth it to sacrifice one of many nights out for important academic items. For example, I am a member of the School of Arts and Sciences Honors program and I had to write a formal academic thesis as my capstone project, and I would just manage the upcoming to-do list as needed, and I ended up writing a 243-page thesis that I feel is a pretty good work as it explores colonial South America in some pretty detailed ways, and I actually (had) to present it at a formal conference on Friday, April 24th.”
Q: What are your post-graduate plans?
Sode: “I had plans to go to law school even before I got to Rutgers and I’ve successfully gained admission to law school at the University of Virginia for the fall of 2015. Going in, I knew that I needed to get into a top-10 school for the time investment to be worth it and the only way to make that happen was to do extremely well in school in addition to attaining a satisfactory score on the Law School Admissions Test. I was able to focus on this goal for such a long time period because I knew that the potential payoff would be huge and because I saw how important it was to get my career started off on the right foot.
“I began the process of studying for the LSAT last year and that test was probably the most difficult academic endeavor that I have ever undertaken because I had to essentially train myself in the art of formal logic. I probably studied for the LSAT for around four months in total and at one point during the spring, I woke up at 6 AM sharp for 40 straight days so I could complete, grade, and go over a practice test (3-hour time commitment) before heading out to lacrosse practice and class later that day. I really made use of my compartmentalization skills during this phase of college as there was a lot of frustration regarding the scores that I was getting on my practice tests and I really had to work hard to compartmentalize those feelings and not let them affect my performance in school or lacrosse. At the end of the day, my work paid off as I eventually scored in the top 7% of all test-takers when I took the test for real.”
Q: Tell me about some of your volunteer efforts — Elijah’s Promise Soup Kitchen, the Ronald McDonald House, Habitat for Humanity, etc. What’s driven you to give back?
Sode: “I would say that I’m very empathetic as far as what a person who is a member of an immigrant family goes through when they move to a new country. I grew up and still live in a border state (Texas) and I had a lot of exposure to kids whose families had just immigrated from Mexico and Central or South America because I attended school in the Dallas Independent School District before changing districts in the seventh grade.
“A lot of my classmates had parents who just killed themselves to make ends meet by working multiple jobs and many families just didn’t have that much extra money to spend on extraneous items such as expensive toys, etc. We would have toy drives in elementary school and the presents that some of my classmates received at our Christmas parties represented the only things that they had any hope of receiving during the holiday season and you had a sense that those toys meant far more to them than they let on.
“For that reason, I’ve always made participation in the Big Chill a priority because I know that New Brunswick has a large immigrant population and it’s pretty clear that a lot of those families have just arrived from Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America.
“For example, I speak Spanish decently well and there’s a store called “El Rancho Western Wear” on the right side of Suydam coming from Hamilton toward Cook/Douglass and that store usually has a freestanding sign out front in Spanish that says “Entregamos Paqueterias a Todo México,” which means “We deliver packages to all of Mexico” and it’s pretty clear that the store is advertising to immigrants that want to send remittances home to their extended family. I’m familiar with the socioeconomic backgrounds of those families thanks to my experiences at home and I know that a lot of the toys collected by the Big Chill go directly to kids from that part of New Brunswick, and that’s always driven me to participate in the Big Chill as I know how much those presents mean to those kids.”