The key to any construction project is to put down a good foundation, and at Campbell University, the football staff is anchoring its foundation with a 313-pound brick.
Adhem Elsawi, a 6-foot-6, 313-pound offensive lineman from Saratoga Springs, has become a fixture in the Fighting Camels’ offensive line as a true freshman. He’ll make his fifth straight start, and sixth of the season, when the Camels conclude their season Saturday at home against Jacksonville.
A win will give the Camels a 4-6 record. Last year, after the college revived the program following a 56-year absence, the Camels were 1-9.
“He’s got a lot of potential,” said Camels offensive line coach Oscar Olejniczak, who was active in getting Elsawi to Buies Creek, N.C. “He hasn’t even tapped into what he can do.”
“Adhem has size and a tremendous work ethic, and those are two things you can’t create,” said Terry Jones, Elsawi’s coach at Saratoga Springs. “He’s also very intelligent, and those are all qualities you want as a football player. He was our best lineman last year.”
Elsawi was a first-time Daily Gazette all-star and a fourth-team Class AA all-New York state selection last year, and as an honors student at Saratoga, was leaning toward an Ivy League education. But sometime during the recruiting process, things changed.
“I was looking at the Ivies, but a lot of the recruiters weren’t being truthful with me, and they lost my respect,” said Elsawi. “It was a bunch of different situations.”
Like many high school athletes, Elsawi had dreamed of playing college football at the highest level, but there were no scholarship offers, only a lot of opportunities to walk-on. So Elsawi started looking elsewhere.
“I started looking at just about every league and every school there was, and Campbell was one that got back to me,” Elsawi said.
“When I first heard about him, I didn’t think we had a chance,” said Olejniczak. “He had so many other options up North. But through conversations with him and his father, we built up a good rapport, and when they came down here, they fell in love with the place. It was a quick turnaround.”
Elsawi admits to undergoing a little culture shock in his move to Buies Creek, which is about 35 miles south of Raleigh, and has a population of just over 2,600.
“It was a little strange, at first, but it’s really a great experience for me,” he said. “It’s good for me to get out and see what’s out there.”
Elsawi didn’t know a lot about Buies Creek, and Campbell obviously didn’t know a lot about the Northeast. In the Campbell football media guide, Elsawi’s hometown is listed as Sarasota Springs.
Preseason injuries allowed Elsawi to start at offensive tackle in his first college game, and he’s since moved to guard. Despite playing two positions, he’s handled the transition from high school to Division I-AA football smoothly.
“I knew he would get some playing time right away,” said Olejniczak. “Our offense is pretty complicated, with a lot of line calls. But he’s been around guys who were in the system last year, and he’s taken advantage of being around those guys.”
“I looked at some film from last year and saw how many upperclassmen they had back, and I thought it was going to take me a year [to see a lot of playing time],” said Elsawi. “But because of injuries, I started the first game at tackle, and the veteran guys have helped me grow into the position.”
Although Elsawi was a dominant player in high school, he admits he had some flaws when he got to college.
“I know now that I could have come in bigger and stronger,” he said. “The biggest thing I’ve had to work on is blocking. In high school, I was used to getting in someone’s way instead of driving him out. Right now, it’s more of a mental thing than a physical thing for me. I’ve just got to work more on driving off my blocks.”
The move to guard in the last couple of games should help him in that respect.
“At guard, there’s more one-on-one solo blocking, and that will help me if I move back to tackle,” he said.
“With his quick feet, he’s a better fit as a guard,” said Olejniczak.
Elsawi, who is taking pre-med courses with the goal of becoming a doctor, is, for the time being, making football a top priority.
“If I continue to get bigger and stronger, I’d love to go to the NFL,” he said. “If that doesn’t happen, then it’s grad school.
“I started playing in Pop Warner when I was in fourth grade, but when I was in the eighth grade, I was going to give up football and concentrate on basketball. But one of my coaches said I should be an athlete, not just a basketball player. Now, football is my passion. I can’t imagine what I was thinking back then.”