Seton Hall Illinois Baseball

Illinois’ Jacob Campbell awaits a pitch during a game last February in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Jacob Campbell cannot wait to get back behind home plate.

The 2018 Janesville Craig High graduate and University of Illinois junior is considered one of the top catching prospects in the country.

Campbell and his Illini baseball teammates saw the majority of the 2019 season canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. Plans are tentatively in place to start the 2021 Big Ten Conference season on time, albeit with certain COVID restrictions. The schedule does not include nonconference games at this point, but Campbell said that will hopefully change.

Regardless of what the schedule ultimately looks like, Campbell is itching to get the catching gear back on.

“I’m really motivated, as I know my teammates are, because of what we’ve been through,” Campbell said. “The last nine months have been so challenging, but this is an opportunity to take a step forward and get back to playing.

“I know there are certain things I can’t control, but I’m going to attack the situation and make the most of it.

“Everybody has been dealing with the same thing, so this will be like a fresh start.”

Campbell was a standout coming out of high school. He was The Gazette’s area player of the year his junior and senior seasons at Craig, a unanimous Associated Press all-state first-team selection and the state’s pitcher/catcher of the year in 2018. He was drafted in the 36th round of the 2018 MLB Draft by the Chicago Cubs but chose to honor his collegiate commitment to Illinois.

Campbell said the last nine months have been a whirlwind. He contracted COVID-19 in early September and was quarantined in his Champaign, Illinois, apartment for 14 days. He said his symptoms were relatively mild, with temporary loss of taste and smell and a lingering headache that lasted three days the worst of it.

The day his quarantine period concluded, his roommate at Illinois tested positive for the coronavirus, forcing Campbell to spend another 14 days in isolation.

A workout junkie, Campbell said a month isolated in his small apartment bedroom was less than ideal.

“I can’t tell you how many push-ups and sit-ups I did,” Campbell said with a laugh via a phone interview. “More than anything, I just tried to keep my sanity, because I literally couldn’t leave my bedroom.

“I’d look out my window and see this big campus in front of me, and yet I couldn’t even walk around it or go outside and get some fresh air.”

Campbell has not been totally away from the diamond. He did play a summer schedule with the Lombard Orioles—the top semi-professional program in the Suburban Chicago League and a longtime member of the Wisconsin State Baseball League.

Ranked as the No. 1 newcomer in the Big Ten by Baseball America in 2019, Campbell started 30 of 33 games for the Illini his freshman year. He is a junior at Illinois majoring in health promotions and education, but he has sophomore-eligibility in baseball.

He is eligible to be drafted again in 2021 and hopes to improve upon his production at the plate. He’s already considered one of the top defensive prospects in the country.

“Healthwise, I’m 100%, and I couldn’t say that before,” Campbell said. “I think that’s going to make a big difference at the plate.

“But more than anything, I just want to get the season going. We’re all ready for it and have done everything we’ve been told to do. I still get tested (coronavirus) three times a week, and I know when I get back to school after Christmas break, I’ll have quarantine right away, which is OK. It just means we’re that much closer to starting the season.”