Versatility, for a football player, is a rare thing, particularly by the time a guy gets to be a senior in high school. In junior high, if someone plays, say, quarterback, wide receiver, and a little at running back on offense and in the secondary with a little work at linebacker on defense, it mainly meant that he was one of the most athletic, most skilled and most developed players on the team.
And Cameron Vail was that.
Usually, when guys like that get to high school, they settle into one position and really hone their skills there.
And Vail was so good at safety, he started as a sophomore. Along the way, he broke up six passes, made 59 tackles including three for losses.
But, as a junior, he was back to playing all over. Yes, he continued to thrive at safety, getting in on 55 tackles with one for a loss with four pass break-ups and two interceptions. But he also became a force on offense, particularly as a short-yardage quarterback in the Bryant Hornets’ “jumbo package,” a formation in which Vail played the “Wildcat” quarterback with other defensive players adding to the blocking corps.
In limited duty, he rushed for 70 yards on 14 tries with a touchdown, threw two passes and completed them both for 21 yards, and caught five throws for 86 yards.
As a senior, he added punting to his chores. On defense, he started at strong safety, switched some to free safety, made 49 stops with two for losses with five break-ups and six forced fumbles. On offense, he rushed for 94 yards and seven touchdowns in the “Wildcat”. He also played wide receiver at times.
Basically, as a senior, Cameron Vail was doing all the things on the field as a senior, he’d done as an eighth-grader or a freshman.
And he did it despite the kind of adversity no high school kid should have to endure.
It all resulted in all-State recognition and plenty of college scholarship offers.
“I was committed to OBU,” he said. “That was probably my top Division II school out of all my offers because of their great coaches, great school, great football team, great guys. That was initially my number one school.”
He’s visited Arkansas Tech and Harding, as well.
But, in the end, Vail made the decision to accept an offer from the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville to join the team as a “preferred walk-on,” fulfilling a dream to play for the Razorbacks in the Southeastern Conference. On National Signing Day, Wednesday, he joined five teammates in officially making their commitments.
Academic scholarships will help him pay for tuition and books but, with a sure thing at OBU, why is he taking the risk? After all, aren’t walk-ons just glorified tackling dummies?
Though a risk, Vail believes it’s a calculated one.
“The new coaching staff coming in,” he explained. “I felt like I had a better opportunity to come in as a walk-on and earn a scholarship because everybody’s starting new. It’s a new system so I wouldn’t be at as much of a disadvantage coming in as a new guy.”
“Cameron made a tough decision,” acknowledged Bryant head coach Buck James. “He basically had his way paid for at Ouachita Baptist University and schools that really wanted him bad.
“Cameron is following his heart and his head, thinking that he can make this work,” the coach continued. “My hat’s off to Cameron. I think it takes a lot of guts to go do what a lot of people say you can’t do.
“I told Cameron this when he was making his decision, ‘If anybody can do it, he can,’” he asserted.
“He’s got all the intangibles it takes,” James related. “He just needs to grow, get bigger and stronger. He already has it mentally. He can bring a lot of upside to a secondary, just because he’s the kind of guy that knows where everybody’s supposed to be and knows what everybody’s supposed to do. Every coach wants that in his film room. Every coach wants that in their meeting room. Every guy wants that in their locker room. And they definitely want it on the field.
“Cameron’s fast enough to make plays at any level of football,” the coach insisted. “He’s just got to be able to endure the physical side of what the SEC brings. If he accomplishes that, the sky’s the limit for him. He can be a guy that can get on the field.”
Asked about playing everywhere, Vail said, “My coaches have just always given me a chance to do it. I guess I’m blessed with that opportunity because the more times you get to be on the field, the more plays you get to make.
“Coach (Paul) Calley started me as a sophomore, that helped me a lot,” he noted. “Then Coach James coming in and the amount of hard work, the hard things they put us through — they pushed us and there’s no doubt in my mind that if I didn’t have them, I wouldn’t be the player I am today or have the opportunities that I have.
“My junior season was more about adjusting,” he acknowledged. “But my senior season was more about having fun. It was awesome.”
“It ain’t anything that’s going to happen fast,” James said. “It’s going to be a slow process and probably a lot slower for Cameron than it is for the Bryant public.
“I think the guy’s a winner. He’s probably one of the most mature football players that I’ve ever coached. I think he has his head on the floor as good as anybody I’ve ever seen. He does some stuff that the average adult can’t handle. I really applaud the way he took this, the mature way he’s taking this.”