Written by Ryan Butler
In the months before his father's funeral,Anthony Campanella came close to giving up on the sport he loved. He was less than a year removed from the Sept. 11 attacks and the funeral for his cousin who had worked on the 105th floor of the World Trade Center. On a February day in 2003, he was now without one of the men he admired most in the world. When it seemed he had nowhere else to turn, the Jacksonville University football player had another family.
Campanella's entire coaching staff sat in the front row of his father's funeral. The support from his coaches, as well as his teammates and classmates at JU, motivated him to pursue excellence off the field and on it
"I thought to myself that you can't turn your back on your family," Campanella said. "I realized then this was something I didn't need to do for myself but for everyone who supported me."
Over a decade later, that encouragement has stayed with him. He went on to complete his bachelor's and MBA degrees at JU and help begin one of the sporting world's most exciting start-up companies. It's that same support that Campanella wants to return to his alma mater.
"It would be really nice one day to tell my story at graduation," Campanella said.
Campanella was born July 26, 1984 and raised in a sports-heavy family. He grew up in Port Orange, Fla. mainly playing basketball and football. By middle school he was a member of the Port Orange Hawks, one of the premier Pop Warner League teams in the nation. As a freshman at Spruce Creek High School, he was part of an incoming class that snapped the football program's 35-game losing streak and carried the turn-around into a playoff appearance. Campanella would go on to earn Second-Team All-Area and All-State Honorable Mention in football after his junior and senior years, respectively, as well as fourth-place finish in the high jump his senior year while competing for the track team.
Before graduating from Spruce Creek, Campanella suffered one of his greatest personal tragedies. At the beginning of his senior year, the Sept. 11 attacks took away his cousin and devastated a family with deep roots in New York. Campanella said he used the pain from the event as motivation. With a re-invigorated work ethic, he decided to pursue a spot on a college football roster. After passing up an offer to earn a scholarship at the University of Central Florida, Campanella took an offer from JU to being playing in fall 2002.
Following an up-and-down first year with the Dolphins, Campanella strongly considered quitting football, despite the recommendation of his father to stick it out. At the start of 2003, Sal Campanella became ill. Doctors discovered he had gone nearly 10 days with a burst appendix and underwent surgery. After a few more days, the older Campanella succumbed to the illness, passing away in the early hours of Feb. 16, 2003.
The latest death became an even greater inspiration. Beyond his father's encouragement, Campanella said the sight of his entire coaching staff sitting in the front row of the funeral motivated him to reinvest himself in school and football.
After tearing his ACL in the first game of his sophomore year, Campanella would go on to become a key player on the Dolphins the following two seasons. In the meantime he became involved in Student Government at JU, serving as Student Body Vice President for three years. In addition to earning a bachelor's degree in physical education, he also was involved in community service projects in Jacksonville through the Physical Education Club at JU. After tearing his ACL a second time at the end of his senior season, Campanella rehabbed to try to play one final season for the Dolphins after he earned a medical red shirt. But a third ACL tear a few months later ended his playing career and lead Campanella to focus on his professional aspirations.
Campanella worked as a teacher at Fletcher High School in Neptune Beach from 2006 to 2009 and from 2010 to 2012 around a stint as an IT consultant. He simultaneously earned an MBA from JU, completing his second degree in a year and a half. During this time, he had also begun working with a friend to help start up "Gameday Guru", the company that would develop into Gamedayr.com, one of the fast growing sports content sites in the world.
"I have a passion for it (Gamedayr)," Campanella said. "I always revert back to my Dad. He always said to do what makes you happy.' If you want to be a teacher be the best teacher ever. If you want to be a garbage man you better pick that trash up better than anyone else'. I had the same passion for Gamedayr."
Campanella left his teaching position in 2012 to work for Gamedayr full time as COO of the company, overseeing growth opportunities and company management. In less than a year under Campanella's management, the site has grown from around 30,000 unique visitors a month to over one million. Gamedayr is now preparing a massive overhaul to correlate viewer loyalty into a ground-breaking, multi-faceted platform that will revolutionize the sporting experience for college fans nationwide. In the coming months, Gamedayr intends to grow into a medium for fans to share photos, travel tips and support for their respective teams while providing some of the best journalistic publishing content in the field.
"When I look at Gamedayr I see myself," Campanella said. "I see growth, maturity, adversity. When I look at Gamedayr, I see my life track, from going from not really knowing where I'm going to really having a grasp on my future and my goals. We didn't know what Gamedayr was going to turn into. Now we do. .. The reason I can leave for other things was not because I didn't love coaching and teaching, or doing sales. I left them because Gamedayr is the most important thing I do in my life."
That attitude permeates into his support for his alma mater. Campanella regularly attends alumni golf outings, homecoming events and university football games. He hopes to one day help funnel JU students into Gamedayr for professional opportunities and to fulfill his dream to speak at graduation. Regardless of plans for the future, Campanella has been indelibly shaped by the triumphs and tragedies of his life as well as the university family that helped mold him into the person he is today.
"People ask me 'why are you going to an industry with a 90% fail rate? Why you think you can compete with the ESPN's and Bleacher Reports of the world?' It made me go back to my college days and think 'Oh I've heard this before'. Tell me I can't do it and I want to do it. Tell me I can't come back from an ACL surgery, tell me that my degree won't mean anything from a smaller school. Here we are now. .. I don't need anyone else to put value in what I'm doing. I'll just show you the results."
Football Alumnus Still Prepares for Saturday
Written by Ryan Butler