Members of the Dexter boys basketball team hoist the Class C North championship plaque at the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor after beating Central Aroostook 50-48 on a three-point shot at the buzzer. A member of that team, Jacob Campbell (#20), died in a car crash in September. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Jacob Campbell’s role with the Dexter Regional High School boys basketball team during the past two seasons took on many looks.

The 6-foot-2 forward didn’t score 20 points a game nor was he even a starter, but he worked hard at practice and routinely came off the bench during games to provide a spark for coach Peter Murray’s club with his shooting accuracy and rebounding tenacity.

And when Campbell wasn’t in the game he was active on the sidelines in support of his teammates, most notably by waving his Los Angeles Lakers’ towel when another Tiger made a big play.

Campbell graduated last June, and his reputation as an ultimate teammate remains a defining element within the program even in the aftermath of his death in an automobile crash on Sept. 11.

He was 18.

While basketball was his favorite sport Campbell also played football for Dexter, and that team  carried Campbell’s No. 81 jersey with them throughout the 2021 season and held it high at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland last month after the Tigers outlasted Maranacook 34-30 to win the 8-player small-school state championship.

Now a similar presence follows Dexter’s basketball team in its pursuit of another championship — to the Tigers he’s forever a teammate.

“Jake was an amazing teammate,” said Dexter junior forward Will Kusnierz on Monday evening, just before this year’s team honored Campbell during a ceremony before its home opener, a 72-36 victory over Piscataquis Community High School of Guilford at Guiski Gymnasium.

“I don’t think you can really put into words how good he was.”

Dexter’s players, coaches and staff members all wore Tiger red T-shirts with Campbell’s name and uniform number 20 on the back and “Jake: Forever a Teammate” on the front both before the PCHS game and while on the bench.

Members of the Dexter boys basketball team stand at midcourt while head coach Peter Murray shares a tribute to former teammate, the late Jacob Campbell, during a pregame ceremony Monday evening before the Tigers played Piscataquis of Guilford at Guiski Gymnasium in Dexter. Credit: Ernie Clark / BDN

And as the players stood united at center court, head coach Peter Murray delivered a message honoring Campbell to them and the fans attending the game.

“In 40 years of coaching I’ve never seen a kid with such empathy for other people,” Murray said during an earlier interview. “I don’t think the kid had an enemy in the world. He truly loved to see his teammates do well, he basked in that moment. As long as the team was successful that’s all that mattered to him.”

Campbell, who lived in Exeter, followed older brother Jason into the Dexter rec basketball program as a youngster and went on to play subvarsity as a freshman and sophomore at the high school.

He moved up to the varsity as a junior and became what Murray described as a “sixth starter,” meaning he didn’t start the game but saw significant playing time as a reserve.

“He didn’t like it at first, but then he understood that there was a bigger purpose at the end of the season and all he wanted was for the team to succeed and to be part of that in any way possible,” said Jason Campbell, now a third-year assistant varsity basketball coach at Dexter.

“So he worked hard to make the starters better. During practices he’d work his butt off to make sure the starters were ready for the next game and if [coach] Murray called on him he’d be ready to do whatever he needed to do to help the team.”

Murray and Campbell’s peers appreciated his team-first approach to what might be a  challenging position for many teenage basketball players given their natural goal of maximizing  their playing time.

“He could have easily said, ‘What about me?’” Murray said. “He could have been like that if he wanted to be. It would have been easy for him to do and he might have been somewhat justified, but that’s not what he was about.”

Campbell was about being part of a team and winning, and he accomplished both goals.

First he was part of Dexter’s 2020 Class C North championship team, contributing as a reserve during the Tigers’ dramatic run through the regional tournament when they won three games by a total of eight points.

“He was willing to do whatever we needed him to do, and at that point we needed him to come off the bench, score a few points and play great defense,” senior guard Avery Gagnon said. “He was a great defender and overall a great role player.”

When he wasn’t on the court, Campbell was striking a familiar chord on the sidelines.

“I was a sophomore sitting on the bench right next to him, and I could just see the great teammate that he was and how he reacted when other guys did great,” Gagnon said. “I really learned from him how to be a great teammate.”

Last winter there was no statewide tournament due to COVID-19, but Campbell helped Dexter win the Penobscot Valley Conference Penquis/Penobscot pod title and finish the season with a 13-2 record.

“The bottom line is if he was in any number of neighboring communities he’s a starter for those communities,” Murray said. “We all know that. We all acknowledge that, not just with him but  there’s other players on our team that we acknowledge the same thing.”

Campbell’s persona was no different in the hallways of his school or elsewhere than it was in the locker room or on the basketball court.

“He just loved being around people, and he loved making people laugh,” junior guard Bryce Connor said.

That’s why sadness from Campbell’s passing lingers, just as memories of his positive impact on his schoolmates and teammates remain prominent.

“He’s friends with everybody, he knew everybody and he was loved by everybody,” Murray said. “To know Jacob Campbell is to love Jacob Campbell.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Jason Campbell. It has been updated.

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...