Jordan Campbell grew up in a very poor area in Rubidoux, Calif. He witnessed many of his friends get involved with drugs and gangs.
Afraid Jordan would fall victim to a similar fate, Colleen and Titus Campbell uprooted their family from that environment and moved to nearby Norco.
Combined with the love and support from his family, including grandfather Ray Collier, Campbell buckled down with school, attached himself to more positive influences like future NFL players Toby and Garth Gerhart, and earned a full scholarship to play football at the University of Southern California. He was part of USC’s recruiting class of 2007 that Rivals.com ranked as second-best in the nation.
Campbell, a linebacker who later transferred to New Mexico Highlands University, signed a free-agent contract with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2013 and later played fullback for the Kansas City Chiefs and Washington Redskins.
“My parents didn’t go to college; I was the first in my family to go to college,” Campbell said. “By someone investing some time in me, it allowed me to do what I’m doing today.”
While his NFL career was short-lived, Campbell has focused his efforts on supporting and nurturing Southern California’s youth in a similar way his family helped him. In 2014, Campbell opened Winner Circle Athletics, a charter school in Corona, Calif., for middle school students in grades 4-8 where academics are equally as important as athletics.
The 3,000-square-foot facility he opened with $5,000 has grown exponentially. Winner Circle Athletics is now 65,000 square feet and a multi-million dollar business with no debt. A second location to accommodate approximately 100 students is scheduled to open in Irvine, Calif., in June.
“The goal is to change as many lives as possible,” Campbell said. “All it took was one coach to show an interest in me when I was their age. Our program is so successful because we care and we’re hands on. We’re here every day with these kids.
“Everything we do is off the experience I went through.”
Winner Circle Athletics isn’t like every other charter school in the United States. Tuition is $10,000 as to not discourage or segregate students simply based on household income. There are approximately 200 students enrolled (75% male) for everything from football to lacrosse, soccer, field hockey and basketball. Some, like seventh grader Aydin Breland, already have collegiate scholarship offers and interest.
More importantly, all students must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA.
School is Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., with tutoring available before or afterward. Optional bible class is offered on Mondays. Students can also take a course called “Beyond Today,” which teaches them how to conduct themselves during interviews, online via social media and more.
Campbell, who owns 65% of WCA while friend and former college teammate Jesse Halberstadt owns 35%, has no plans to increase tuition.
“The last thing I want to do is cut out kids who want this opportunity or need it versus the kid who is privileged and gets anything he or she wants,” he said.
Winner Circle Athletics offers student-athletes the collegiate experience at the middle school level and at a fraction of the cost. Besides the 16,000-square-foot academic learning center, there’s a state-of-the-art weight room, recovery room (with hyperbaric chamber and cryotherapy), a 25-by-30 yard turf field, half-court basketball court, on-site chef, cafeteria, nutritionist, juice bar and barbershop.
It’s a one-stop shop for a student-athlete.
“We want to take that elite program and offer it to everybody,” Campbell said.
Not only are middle school students taking advantage of WCA’s offerings, but collegiate and professional athletes are also frequent visitors. Football players training for the NFL Combine can work out at the facilities—an 8-week program costs agents $20,000. Students who attend other public or private schools can visit WCA after class for athletic training twice a week.
Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Everson Griffen, a former USC teammate of Campbell’s, is a frequent visitor. New Orleans Saints safety Marcus Williams and Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Kenny Clark both attended the school and remain actively involved.
“It’s the biggest blessing,” Campbell said. “Kenny Clark was here recently with [Packers receiver] Trevor Davis. These kids are lighting up like Christmas trees—they just saw him on TV playing in the NFL and now he’s in the classroom. It keeps the kids motivated and shows them they can be next.”
For Campbell, that’s what it’s all about—creating a self-sustaining ecosystem of cyclical support. It started with his father and grandfather to him, he has since paid it forward at Winner Circle Athletics, and now WCA alums are giving back and supporting current student-athletes.
“They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we’re trying to create a perfect environment for these student-athletes here,” Campbell said. “They need someone who loves them and supports them like my family did for me.”