Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Aaron Kampman gave Packers a boost getting to the QB

Aaron Kampman led the Packers in sacks in 2008, including this one of Minnesota’s Tarvaris Jackson.

By Martin Hendricks

Sept. 23, 2014

Green Bay — Aaron Kampman stood in the Lambeau Field tunnel, surrounded by former Packers players dating back five decades.

Moments after walking onto Lambeau Field for halftime introductions during alumni weekend Sept.14, Kampman talked with long-time members of the Packers' game-day operations crew.

Kampman updated staffers on how he was building a house for his family of six, cutting the oaks from his Iowa land for the floors.
"It's a great thrill to go out that tunnel," Kampman said. "In front of these great fans.

"But what I remember most is not the games or the wins or losses. I remember the people: my teammates, coaches and the people who worked here behind the scenes. At the end of the day, you remember the people."

Kampman, 34, will be remembered as one of the most productive pass rushers in franchise history, recording 54 sacks to rank fourth on the all-time sack list, behind only Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (74 ½), Reggie White (68 ½), and Tim Harris (55).

The 6-foot-4, 265-pound defender was a blue-collar player who endeared himself to Packer fans with his unselfish and relentless play on the field and his commitment to his family and others off it.

Kampman was drafted by general manager and head coach Mike Sherman in the fifth round of the 2002 NFL draft.

He had all the measurables (4.74 in the 40-yard dash, 33-inch vertical leap, 420-pound bench press) to warrant being drafted earlier, but was available when Green Bay made the 156th overall pick.

Kampman once semi-jokingly attributed his later draft position to the perception of being labeled "a slow white guy" from the University of Iowa. No matter the label, Kampman did what he always does: roll up his sleeves and work to earn a spot.

That approach has served Kampman well since high school, where he played for one of the most influential figures in his life: head coach Ed Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg.

He had a decorated prep career as a linebacker, earning Iowa Class 2A player of the year, Parade Magazine All-American, and USA Today second-team All-American honors.

His college career at Iowa began at linebacker, but ended with one hand in the turf.

After starting 11 games at linebacker in his sophomore season, he was switched to defensive end. Kampman blossomed, earning first-team All-Big Ten and academic All-American honors in his senior year and serving as a Hawkeye co-captain.

Kampman quickly showed he had the attitude, intelligence and ability to be successful on the NFL level.

He started six games as a rookie, sharing time at left defensive end with Vonnie Holiday. He recorded just a half-sack in Green Bay's 12-4 season, but would increase his productively exponentially over the next three seasons.

"Aaron has a phenomenal work ethic and leadership on the field and off," said defensive line coach Bob Sanders in a 2005 article. "He takes care of himself as far as the weight room, he's ready to go every day, and he's the kind of guy that loves the game.

"He's done an excellent job in developing his pass rushing skills.... Enthusiastic guys like that are fun to be around and fun to coach. He commits so much to the game and it makes me as a coach be the best I can be to help him."

Kampman totaled two sacks in 2003, 4 ½ in 2004, and 6 ½ in 2005 before his breakout season.

In 2006, he led the NFC and was second in the league with 15 ½ sacks, earning All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in Mike McCarthy's first season as head coach. He also set a franchise record for tackles by a defensive lineman with 113, breaking the previous mark of 107 recorded by Ezra Johnson in 1983.

Kampman was twice named NFC defensive player of the week — joining Reggie White (1998) as the only Packers defender to accomplish that feat.

He followed up his career season with 12 sacks in 2007 to again pace all Packers players.
Green Bay advanced all the way to the NFC Championship Game, losing in overtime, 23-20, to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field.

"It was a great season," Kampman said of the 13-3 campaign. "We came back to beat Seattle in the 'Snow Globe' game in the playoffs and then lost a tough one in the cold to the Giants for the championship."

It was also Kampman's last season with Brett Favre, and their relationship went far beyond the gridiron.

"Brett was a great football player and teammate and so much fun to be around," he said. "I'm so glad that I got to know him as a person."

He registered a team-high 9 ½ sacks in 2008 during a turbulent 6-10 season — the first with Aaron Rodgers succeeding Favre as the Packers starting quarterback.

In 2009, Kampman was switched to linebacker in a coaching move that was questioned and scrutinized by the media, but never by the player himself. Ever the consummate team player, Kampman did his best to perform in his new role at left outside linebacker.

As rookie Clay Matthews emerged as Green Bay's premier pass rusher, Kampman finished fourth on the team with 3 ½ sacks. Matthews led the team with 10, followed by Cullen Jenkins (4 ½), Nick Barnett (4), and Brad Jones (4).

Kampman's season was cut short by a knee injury that landed him on injured reserve in early December. In March 2010, he signed a lucrative $25 million, four-year contract with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In two injury-filled seasons, Kampman recorded just four sacks and was released in June 2012. He formally retired from the NFL in 2013.

"I was fortunate to play in the National Football League and had eight great seasons in Green Bay," he said.

Kampman said it was difficult to single out games or performances, but he did mention the Packers' thrilling 34-31 victory over the Vikings in Minnesota on Christmas Eve 2004, when Ryan Longwell booted a 29-yard field goal as time expired to clinch the NFC North Division title.

Sherman granted the team a three-day weekend off for the accomplishment.

"That was a great victory on Minnesota's home field," Kampman said. "I had a pretty good game I think. And it was great to have the extra time off at Christmas to spend with my family."

Kampman is noted for his faith and devotion to his family, which was a product of his blue-collar Iowa roots. He grew up in Kelsey, a small Iowa town with no stoplights and a population of approximately 80.

Hard work was and still is a way of life in the rural community. Kampman's father, Bob, owned a lumber yard and his grandfather farmed 200 acres.

Bob Kampman's three sons loved nothing more than to accompany him to the lumberyard and help stack wood, sweep floors or assist with any other chores.

"My dad was my role model," Kampman said. "We wanted to be like him."

When the boys entered high school, Aaron and his older brother, Andy, started their own shingling business, Kampman Construction.

Kampman returned to his high school in the fall of 2008 to give a pep talk to the football team after the high school was destroyed by a tornado.

Today, Kampman and his high school sweetheart and wife, Linde, are enjoying the process of building the dream home for their family. "A labor of love," he said with a smile.

Kampman still closely follows the Packers and is an assistant line coach at his children's high school.

"It's great to come back to Lambeau and visit everyone," Kampman said. "I enjoyed playing here and we have many great memories of being part of the Green Bay community and Packers organization. This is a truly a special place."

College: University of Iowa.
Packers years: 2002-'09.
Jersey number: 74.
Packers highlights: Unheralded draft choice who developed into one of the NFL's elite pass rushers. Led Packers in sacks from 2006-'08, including career and NFC high of 151/2 in 2006. Pro Bowl selection (2006-'07) and named All-Pro (2006-'07). Played in 112 regular-season games in Packers tenure.
Other teams: Jacksonville Jaguars (2010-'11).
Residence: Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Occupation: Currently serving as general contractor and assisting in building his family home. Also an assistant high school offensive and defensive line coach.

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