A Winner...Joe Camps
By Jim Joanos
Joe Camps is a winner. No question about it. He has excelled his entire life as an athlete, a student, a husband, a father, and one of the finest urologists in the medical profession. Never mind that the four years he was a member of the Florida State football team, the squad won only nine games and lost thirty-five. Unfortunately, the guys that played for FSU from 1973 through 1976 had that painful experience on the playing field. Those players also had another very unusual experience. They played for three different head coaches.
Joseph Levonne Camps, Jr., was delivered in birth in Gainesville in 1955 by his midwife grandmother. He excelled in the Gainesville public school system. The first black student body president in the history of the school, he graduated from Gainesville High with a 3.5 out of possible 4.0 scholastic average. A star on the football team that went undefeated his last two years, he was not only team captain his senior year but was first team All State in Division 4A ( schools with the largest enrollment).
Recruited by Florida State
Camps was a junior at Gainesville High when Larry Jones was having his first year as FSU's head coach. Jones, as you might recall had a very sucessful first season in 1971. The team went eight and three and finished with that exciting shootout at the first ever Fiesta Bowl when Arizona State managed to score last in the waning moments of the game and beat FSU 45-38. Consequently, when FSU came calling during Camps' high school senior year they already had his attention. He was also somewhat interested in several Ivy League schools that recruited him. However, FSU did a good job on Camps and he ultimately signed his letter of intent to attend Florida State.
Disaster in 1973
The ink had barely dried on Camps' letter of intent when FSU's football program suffered a major hit. Two dozen or more players left the football team during the spring training period. Following a disappointing 7-4 season, Coach Jones had made the spring drills tougher. Some of the players resented that and decided that they did not wish to pursue football any longer. Morale was down as the 1972 season had started out with so much promise and ended in disappointment. America was pulling out of Viet Nam after a number of divisive war years. There was a lot of unrest on college campuses around the country including Florida State.
In June a writer for the St. Petersburg Times wrote and published in that paper a scathing three-part series of articles criticizing FSU's off season training program. It became known as the "chicken wire scandal". Chicken wire had been used in some of the criticized drills to keep players in a crouched position during their workouts. The articles received wide-spread attention and while the writer acknowledged in the last of the series that FSU's program was typical of a number of other ones around the country, FSU became singled out for what many believed to be "what was wrong with college football". There were investigations and lots of turmoil. The result being that FSU entered the 1973 season with a depleted team and very, very low morale.
Camps and his fellow recruits entered FSU in the fall of 1973. Camps made the traveling roster his freshman year but played only sparingly and then mostly on special teams. Florida State unexpectedly lost the opening game at Wake Forest, 7 - 9, and things continued to go downhill. FSU did not win a game, was blown out in several, and ended the season 0 and 11. Camps was "shocked" and "devastated". He had come from an undefeated high school program to an 0 and 11 season in college. He "could not figure out how we could lose eleven games". He continues to be "baffled" to this day by that season. However, he came out of it determined to "stay with it".
Shortly after the season ended, four days shy of Christmas day, Coach Jones was relieved of his duties at FSU. Although, as a freshman, Camps did not have much direct contact with him, he remembers Jones "as a nice, real decent man, and that he tried to instill in us that we were the future of FSU football."
Darrell Mudra took over the FSU program in early 1974. The 1974 season was better than the one before it. The spirit improved. Recruiting improved. The games were much closer, but the team, nevertheless, lost ten of its eleven games. The year was more enjoyable for Joe Camps as he became a starter at defensive safety from the opening game of the season. He would continue as a starter throughout his last three years at FSU.
FSU lost close games to Pittsburgh and Colorado State, got blown out by Kansas, lost to Baylor, and then led powerhouse Alabama throughout the game before losing by a field goal 7-8 in the last moments. FSU seemed to be turning things around but then lost to Florida, Auburn, and Memphis State, before heading to Coral Gables to play Miami in its homecoming game. Unexpectedly, FSU, after losing its last twenty games in a row, beat Miami, 21-14. Camps, had a major role in the Miami victory. In addition to playing a good game throughout, he supplied some late game heroics. With the score 21-14 in favor of FSU, Miami was driving toward FSU's goal when Camps intercepted a Miami pass on the FSU eleven yard line and ran it back twenty yards to the thirty-nine. After that, FSU held Miami off and salvaged that lone victory.
Camps remembers that interception in the Miami game "as one of the biggest highlights" in his career. He considered that win a "big turning point" to the program. He says that he can "still see that ball floating in the air and feel the jubilation of picking it off". He said earlier plans had been for the team to fly home immediately following the game. However, Mudra told them that they were going to celebrate and checked them into one of the "fancy hotels". The "whole team" celebrated that night along with the fans that were staying at the hotel. He said that "everybody was yelling" and that they "started to believe in ourselves then". Despite the very important victory, FSU lost the last two games of the season, finishing 1-10 for the year.
Coach Mudra's second year as FSU's head coach was again an improvement over the previous year. The team won three games and lost eight but four of the losses were by four points or less. The three victories were over Utah State, Clemson, and in the last game, Houston. But although there was improvement, it had apparently not been enough. Soon after the season ended, Mudra was paid for the remaining portion of his contract and relieved of his duties as head coach.
Camps was "shocked when Mudra was released". Before the firing, he had felt "really optimistic because Mudra had recruited some fine talent". He was also quite disappointed that Deke Pollard his position coach was let go. He describes Mudra as "very intellectual" which was "stimulating" to Camps. Mudra "loved his ball players and treated us with a lot of dignity". He described Mudra's style as "letting the position coaches do the coaching". He "believed we could win and made us feel like we could win".
1976 and Bobby Bowden
Bobby Bowden's first year as FSU's head coach was Camps' last year on the team. There was a very spirited spring practice program under Bowden. Camps described it by saying that "Coach Bowden and the staff went back to basics and fundamentals". He said that "we drilled and drilled and drilled at blocking and tackling". Bowden "would always say that if you made fundamental and mental mistakes you could not play for him". He was a strict disciplinarian on and off the field. Camps says, "I will never forget his favorite line, 'Are you walking the line?'". By it, "he meant are you meeting your responsibilities on and off the field?" Camps describes Bowden as "the first coach I ever saw that took as many notes as he did". "He knew everything about you".
At the conclusion of spring practice, the team elected four captains to lead the team for the 1976 season. Camps along with quarterback Jimmy Black, running backs Jeff Leggett, and Rudy Thomas were elected. In reference to their being three offensive players and Camps as the lone defender, Camps jokes that it "was typical Bowden---all offense".
In 1975, the team won five of their eleven games, including the last three of the season. It was a modest but solid beginning for Bowden who would go on to many more victories and even national championships at FSU. But for Camps, it was a great way to finish his career on a high note. At the end of the year, the coaches awarded him with "one of the most coveted awards", the Bob Crenshaw award as the player on the team with the "most fight" or "biggest heart". He says that the award has been very meaningful to him "because you take fight to everything you do every day". He believes that fight "defines your character and who you are".
He has a great deal of admiration for Coach Bowden. "The thing that I tell everybody about Coach Bowden is that he is as consistent today as he was in 1976 in his approach to the game, and in his respect for the players. He says the same things now that he said then. He will say, 'now men, don't win the game-just do your job.' He always wants the football. He wants to win at everything. As a player, you pick up on that. We have been so consistent as to the importance of fundamentals. He plays as a team not as individuals." Camps says Bowden has "never diverted from that plan". "Bowden is painfully honest with his players. Some coaches will show favorites. He will not. With him you have to prove that you are the best player. He finds a way to give people a second chance although he is a firm disciplinarian. He knows what it is like to be a father and all of his players recognize this and it is why he is so effective."
Joe Camps graduated in the spring following that 1976 season. The following fall he entered the first year medical school program (Pims) at Florida State. Then he went to the medical school at the University of Florida where he got his degree in 1982.
From 1982 to 1984, he did his internship in the Department of Surgery at the University of North Carolina (Chapel Hill) specializing in Urology. From 1985 to 87, he did his residency in urology, and was Chief Resident from 1987-88, also at UNC. While at UNC, he was awarded the highest award given to a surgical resident at UNC, regardless of the specialty, the Nathan W. Womack Scholarship Award. He is quite proud of that very special award, as such he should be.
After UNC, he spent two years studying as a Fellow in Urologic Oncology in the Anderson Cancer Center of the University of Texas in Houston.
Back to Tallahassee
Dr. Camps came back to Tallahassee to practice in his field of Urology in 1990. As a physician, he has attained a great deal of acclaim. In addition to an intense practice and hundreds of patients, he has written, been involved in important research, and has lectured and presented educational programs extensively. He currently serves as one of the principal physicians of the Southeastern Urological Center in Tallahassee.
Joe Camps and Marion Hoffman met when they were both students at FSU. She was from Tallahassee. Camps still refers to her as his "Tallahassee Lassie". They were married in 1982 just after medical school and before his residency. They have three children, Jasmine, 16, Joseph, III, 14, and Jonathan, 10, a four year survivor of leukemia. The family is quite active in the Church of Christ.
Camps says that they "have a real loving family". He describes his wife as "very understanding" about his profession and praises her "for the great deal of time and effort that she spends to keep the family going". Camps states that his family "has a commitment to Christ and believe that we are under his lordship and that it makes a family bond like none other". He credits the strong family faith as getting them through some challenging days. Four years ago, their youngest child Jonathan was diagnosed with leukemia, a year later Camps' father, a Gainesville minister was murdered by an individual that he offered assistance to, and six months following that, his mother died. He credits the family's strong faith as "helping to keep us going".
Since returning to Tallahassee in 1990, Camps has been very involved in the leadership of the Seminole Boosters. He was on the board for a number of years, and in 1997 served as National Chairman. In 2000, Dr. Camps' many years of service to the athletics program was recognized when he was presented the Moore-Stone Award and made a member of FSU's Athletics Hall of Fame.
Dr. Camps comments that "he has learned from high school until now that success can be measured in many ways...you can be successful in defeat and you can be successful in victory." He attributes that he has learned much from "the tough losses" and that experience continues to help him. "Some days things are not going to go very well. You need to find out if you are a quitter or a fighter." He says that "there were some great players on those teams although they lost those games". He points to Chris Griffin, Bobby Jackson, Gary Woolford, and Lee Nelson, as examples of some real winners on those teams. He believes that they were winners despite the records because they have gone on to great success in life. He still considers his football days as "glamorous" despite the losses and he is quite proud to have worn the garnet and gold.