Football: Liberty, Olentangy graduates making impact at Michigan State
There was a time that A.J. Arcuri and Luke Campbell were more fierce competitors than good friends, when Arcuri starred as a defensive end at Olentangy Liberty and Campbell helped anchor the offensive line at Olentangy.
Their final three meetings in high school were decided by a combined seven points, with the Braves winning in overtime in 2013 and 2014 before the Patriots squeaked out a 24-21 victory the next season.
Even then, it looked like the duo would meet again at the next level, as Arcuri was committed to Michigan State and Campbell had committed to Purdue. But a spot on the Spartans' offensive line opened when Jack Conklin declared early for the NFL draft in 2016 and was taken eighth by the Tennessee Titans, and Campbell ultimately received a scholarship offer from Michigan State and signed with the Spartans.
Five years later, Arcuri and Campbell expect to anchor Michigan State's offensive line this fall under first-year coach Mel Tucker.
"I hadn't played any offense in my life before I came up here. I'd always been a defensive end my whole life," said the 6-foot-7, 306-pound Arcuri, who recovered from an ankle injury in last season's opener to start the final five games, including a 27-17 win over Wake Forest in the Pinstripe Bowl. "That spring of senior year, once Luke came here, we were always driving up together and going on visits. We built our relationship then. It's been a good one."
Arcuri and Campbell were joined two years ago in East Lansing by 2018 Olentangy graduates Jacob Slade and Zach Slade.
The twin brothers, both defensive linemen, redshirted as true freshmen. Jacob, who is 6-3, 298 pounds, played in all 13 games last season at defensive tackle while Zach, a 6-4, 260-pound defensive end, was sidelined because of a preseason knee injury.
Michigan State went 7-6, ending the season on a three-game winning streak after a five-game skid that included losses to three top-10 teams in Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin.
While each of Arcuri's starts last year came at left tackle, Campbell's 26 starts over the past three seasons have alternated between every spot except center. After starting 12 games at right tackle in 2017, he started three times at right guard, once at left guard and once at left tackle in 2018 and last year started the Spartans' first eight games at left guard and a loss to Michigan at right guard before missing the final three games because of a partially torn meniscus.
"I am not the tallest offensive lineman, but I am tall enough to play on the outside and I have enough build to play on the inside," said the 6-5, 305-pound Campbell, who suffered a torn ACL late in the 2018 season. "I've always looked at it as a challenge to take and an opportunity to show that I can play different positions.
"Playing tackle is very natural to me. I played it in high school. The transition to guard has been a lot harder than I thought it would be. It's a lot quicker pace. There's very little reaction time."
Jacob Slade recorded 14 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack last season, when he played behind then-senior Mike Panasiuk and then-junior Naquan Jones.
"I started off really rough and as I went on, I developed better," Slade said. "It was really about getting off blocks, things like that, and doing more than just my job. When I stayed in my gap, I did my job, but it was (about) a lot more than that."
Zach Slade had an interception and a fumble recovery in Michigan State's 2019 spring game before being injured.
Arcuri and Campbell, who have been roommates since their sophomore year, remained in East Lansing during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
The Slade brothers returned to central Ohio, but Jacob admitted he was excited to return to school and work with the team in person under Tucker, a former Ohio State defensive backs coach and co-defensive coordinator who was hired Feb. 16.
"There's only so much you can do to install a playbook online," Jacob Slade said. "It'll be nice to be back on campus and together as a team. We'll see where all that takes us."