AUSTIN, Texas - Jamaal Charles was summoned. The graybeard working out in the University of Texas weight room wanted to talk to him.
Not quite sure what to expect, Charles approached the older man whose Heisman Trophy sits on display at the field house and whose likeness stands watch over Royal-Memorial Stadium in the form of a 9-foot statue.
When you're a tailback at Texas and Earl Campbell wants a word with you, you listen.
"Of course, I did. He's Earl Campbell, man," Charles said as his No. 19 Longhorns (4-1, 0-1 Big 12) prepared to face No. 10 Oklahoma (4-1, 0-1) tomorrow in Dallas.
Campbell, the NFL Hall of Famer who won the Heisman Trophy 30 years ago, has become a mentor to Charles. The advice ranges from what it takes to be the best player on the field to the best way to hold the ball.
They see each other a couple of times a week and Campbell will throw in stories about playing in the days of tearaway jerseys and AstroTurf fields and life after football. "I sit there quiet like it's a classroom and try to learn," Charles said. "I shut up and listen to every word he says. He's Earl Campbell. He gives me motivation to go out there and work hard, don't let nobody take it away from you, don't let anybody tell you you're not the man."
Campbell was a human battering ram as a player with a bruising running style fueled by tree-trunk legs. And his body is paying the price for it today.
Although Campbell denies his physical style of play is the cause, his body is a shell of what it once was. At 52, he struggles to walk and often uses a wheelchair or walker. His large hands appear wracked with arthritis.
Still, he has stories and advice on how to play the game. And because he uses the Texas weight room for physical rehabilitation after recent surgery, he gets to spend a lot of time near the Texas players. "At first, I was ashamed, being an old man, in there with all those young players," Campbell said. "But the strength guys told me that the players were so happy seeing me work to get better that I got over my shame. Jamaal and those guys have been really motivating for me."
Campbell said it was Cleve Bryant, an assistant in the football program, who asked him over the summer to talk to Charles.
"So Jamaal came by," Campbell said. "I talked to him about my career, and some of the things that I had gone through. Then he said, 'Mr. Campbell, I don't mean to be disrespectful, but I wasn't even born when you were playing.' We both laughed about it, and that's when we became friends."
Charles says he studies film of former Longhorns backs. But he doesn't worry that football will take the same toll on his body as it did Campbell.
"Looking at how he used to be, he was like a beast," Charles said. "I wish I was that big."