Champion to Coach: A Meat Judging Legacy

Colton Campbell stands in front of classroom bulletin board. Texas Tech alum and agricultural science teacher at Denver City High School, Colton Campbell shows his Red Raider pride.

With high expectations and ample preparation, Colton Campbell, current agricultural teacher at Denver City High School, remembers preparing to bring his dream of a national meat judging championship to reality. Mark Miller, Ph.D., professor of meat science, food processing and preservation at Texas Tech University, led 21 of his best to Dakota City, Nebraska, for the 2013 national meat judging contest, successfully bringing the championship title home to Lubbock.

Journey to Judging

Campbell grew up in the southeast corner of New Mexico with an active role in the agriculture industry as a member of his local 4-H and FFA chapter.

After winning the New Mexico FFA crops judging title, Campbell was in search of a new contest to complete his senior year. Apprehensive about learning a two-year contest in just one year, Campbell took a chance and leapt into the cutthroat world of competitive meat judging.

“I was told by certain people that I would never be good at it,” Campbell said, “so I told myself I was going to be good at it.”

Road to Red Raider

After falling in love with judging, Texas Tech was on Campbell’s horizon as one of the best intercollegiate meat judging programs in the nation. Bleeding red and black, he made the move across the Texas-New Mexico line in the fall of 2011 as an agricultural education major.

Training began in the fall of 2012 with early morning practices at the Gordon W. Davis Meat Lab. The true meaning of practice like you play came to fruition as judging season began in the spring with trips across the nation. The team’s final trip led them to Dakota City, Nebraska, where they successfully earned the national championship title.

“It wasn’t as much as the national championship, which felt good obviously, but it was the camaraderie amongst our team,” Campbell said. “All of us coming together before the international contest where we actually won was awesome.”

While only four members made the marking team, they were constantly practicing, calculating scores and competing against one another, consistently making each other better.

“I’ve never worked harder for anything in my life than that meat judging team. One of the best experiences of my life was being a small part of that team.”

‘Meating’ Miller

As the San Antonio Livestock Show Distinguished Chair in Meat Science and meat judging coach at Texas Tech, Miller has made a lasting impact on his students.

“I don’t know how Dr. Miller does it exactly, but he can bring people together and bring out the potential of any group of people he wants,” Campbell said. “To this day, it leaves me kind of speechless how he can maximize people’s potential.”

Exploring Education

After a successful student teaching experience in Texico, New Mexico, Campbell knew he chose the right career path. A notable interview landed him in the small town of Wellman, Texas.

“Knowing that I went in and gave them the impression that they wanted me to lead their ag program was fulfilling and humbling,” Campbell said. “I wanted to start with a mindset to go and create a monster per se like my FFA chapter in high school was because we were very successful. We created a monster and that monster continuously had to be fed. People expected us to go and win state championships, so that was kind of my goal – I wanted to get those kids judging.”

After a first-place win at the area contest, Campbell remembers fellow agriculture teachers questioning where this guy from Wellman came from.

“My first year out of the box, I made a reputation for myself as a meat judging coach,” Campbell said, “and that’s kind of my forte.”

A successful two years at Wellman prepared him for his next endeavor 30 miles west in Denver City, Texas. Campbell has led his teams to success with an area contest win in 2018 and second-place finishes in 2019 and 2021. Each of these teams appeared at the state contest in College Station, Texas, with the 2018 team securing a seventh-place win.

“It didn’t matter when it came right down to it – getting the banners and winning,” Campbell said. “It was a byproduct of caring about something and putting in the work to be successful. If you did that, the banners and wins would come.”

Watching hard work pay off in his students has been the most rewarding part of Campbell’s job as he’s worked to instill a mindset of fulfilling what you started, strong work ethic and perseverance.

Morgan Jeter, a vital member of Campbell’s meat judging teams in 2018 and 2019 and current Tarleton State University agricultural communications student, remembers spending early mornings and late evenings practicing in the classroom and at local grocery stores working to hone her craft.

“Campbell was by far one of the best teachers and coaches I ever had,” Jeter said. “He made an impact on me that will last a lifetime. He taught hard work and dedication and wanted everyone to push to be their best because he knew we had it in us.”

Forever Red Raider

Texas Tech will forever hold a special place in Campbell’s heart.

“I’m always gonna support anything and everything that comes out of that university,” Campbell said. “Texas Tech is never gonna be an afterthought in my mind. That university gave me so much.”