By Martin Cleary
Campbell Fair gets a big kick out of playing football, a sport he gravitated to at 15 because his Kingston United soccer team folded.
Make that two big kicks as he’s responsible for not only booting important field goals, converts and the occasional, consolation single, but also handling the third-down punting duties for the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees.
And when it comes to kicking field goals, he has a flair for the dramatic as he has shown three times in the past calendar year, earning the Gee-Gees critical wins in the short OUA regular season.
Could he be called upon again Saturday afternoon for the second time in as many years to decide his team’s fate in the annual Panda Game against the Carleton University Ravens? A sold-out crowd of 25,000 fans is expected to attend the highly-anticipated rivalry game and may see Fair deliver a decisive kick.
Trailing by two points with less than a minute remaining in regulation time in the 2021 Panda Game, Fair kicked a 45-yard field goal, the longest of his career at that time, to give the Gee-Gees a 19-17 victory before a COVID-19-pandemic restricted crowd of 10,000.
“That was crazy,” Fair recalled in a phone interview before a Friday team afternoon meeting. “For that, I didn’t even think. My brain was frozen and it happened.”
Fair, who was recruited to attend uOttawa in 2018 by then placement kicker Lewis Ward (now with the Ottawa Redblacks), has continued his game-winning style of kicking this season for the 4-1, second-place Gee-Gees in breathtaking and record-breaking/record-tying fashion.
In their OUA season-opener, the Gee-Gees had a pleasant nine-hour bus ride home from the University of Windsor, after Fair connected on a 38-yard field goal with 85 seconds left in the game. His three-pointer gave the Gee-Gees a 19-16 win over the Lancers.
“That was more like a mental strain,” he admitted. “I had missed two (field-goal attempts) before to put us in the lead. A lot of kickers would question their ability to make a kick at the end. I tried to forget and focus on what was at hand. I was confident, made it and everyone was excited.”
But certainly not as excited as after Fair, 22, kicked one of the longest field goals in Canadian university football history last Saturday in Waterloo, ON. With no time on the clock in the fourth quarter, Fair confidently launched the ball from midfield and his 55-yard field goal gave the Gee-Gees a 21-18 victory over Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks.
“I approached it the same as any other kick,” Fair explained. “Before the kick on the sidelines, I was thinking of the scenarios that could come up. We were driving down the field and there wasn’t much time.
“I knew it would be a long kick. I picked my target and focused on putting the ball to the target. Obviously, a win was on the line and it was my longest attempt. I felt a bit nervous, my leg was shaking a bit, but I was focused. I felt I kicked low on the ball. I knew it was going straight. But I wasn’t sure if it had the distance.”
A fifth-year arts student playing his fourth year for the Gee-Gees, Fair’s mighty kick was the longest of his career and set off all the alarm bells.
His 55-yard field goal tied the record for the longest OUA field goal with Adam Dixon of McMaster in 1994 and Kevin Rydeard of Western in 1982. He also became the fifth kicker in U Sports national history to connect from that mark and is tied for third place behind Niki DiFonte of Calgary, 59 yards in 2017; and Jerry Foster of Saint Mary’s University, 57 yards in 1986.
Fair’s achievement also broke the Gee-Gees’ team record as he punched the ball four yards farther than Ward did in 2016.
Lewis attended the Gee-Gees’ practice on Wednesday to connect with Fair before he travelled to Vancouver for the Redblacks’ CFL game Friday against the British Columbia Lions. He was proud of Fair’s achievement, but he didn’t overdo it with congratulations.
“He gave me a few pointers,” Fair said. “He just tried to not make it (55-yard field goal) into more than what it was. He treated it like it was another day at the office.”
As a result of his game-winning kick, Fair was named the Gee-Gees’ Athlete of the Week for last week and also earned OUA and U Sports Player of the Week honours in the Special Teams category.
“It was a crazy adrenaline rush,” Fair said about his personal-best placement kick, which saw him carried into the team dressing room on the shoulders of a few players and given a water-bottle shower. “Immediately as it was going through, I turned to the team bench and I flexed (his muscles) at them. They rushed me.
“In practice, I’ve hit long field goals for a long time. It feels good to go into a game and make it. It was validation time.”
Fair’s longest field goal in practice has been 65 yards with some wind at his back. Five of his 13 successful field goals this year have been 42 yards or longer.
Fair is ranked sixth among all placement kickers and punters in the OUA based on his statistics – 13 for 18 in field goals, 10 for 10 on point-after-touchdown converts, and a 40.1-yard punting average. His punting average is fourth best in the league.
“I think I have good mechanics and range of motion,” Fair explained. “I’ve developed my mental game and I feel confident now. And I think I have a good leg to kick the ball.
“I don’t think about it (pressure) or I try not to. It will still be there. For the Wilfrid Laurier kick, my leg started to shake and I felt the nerves. But I was confident.”
Fair’s solid kick, which cleared the goal-post crossbar by about five yards, was a good indication of that.
As the Gee-Gees’ offensive and defensive units run on and off the field throughout a game, Fair moves about in his own little world on the sidelines, glancing at the game and waiting for the coaches to call his name.
“It’s definitely different from all the other guys,” said Fair, who deferred his CFL Draft year until 2023. “I’m in my own zone. I’m my own coach. I work on my own craft.
“I’ll try to relax, if possible. If there’s a big play, I’ll cheer, but not get too excited. Once we get past half field, I take a couple of field-goal kicks into the (practice) net. Once I get the call to punt or kick a field goal, I try to stay calm.
“I think about one thing and that’s where I want to put the ball and not who’s blocking for me or what’s around me. I try to make it a routine, the same thing every time to avoid irregularities.”
When Fair went looking for a new sport after his youth soccer team dissolved, he could have picked basketball, track and field, cross-country running or rugby, which were sports he was familiar with at Nicholson Catholic College in Belleville.
But he decided to follow his brother into football with the Kingston Grenadiers. Seven years later, he’s kicking up a storm in university football and has his eye on playing in the CFL.
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 50 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the High Achievers “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com and on Twitter @martincleary.
HELP SHINE A LIGHT ON LOCAL SPORT! The Ottawa Sports Pages has proudly provided a voice for local sport for over 10 years, but we need your help to continue another 10 and beyond. Please donate to the Ottawa Sports Pages Fund today.