Click photo to enlarge
Auburn quarterback Jason Campbell celebrates after Auburn defeated Alabama 21-13 in Tuscaloosa, Ala., on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2004.(AP Photo/Todd J. Van Emst)

DENVER -- He has been a quarterback since middle school, won national awards in high school, led an undefeated team in college, where he earned his degree, and was a first-round draft pick in the NFL.

He's calm and rational and polite, the perfect gentleman.

Yet he's never the people's choice.

Jason Campbell is haunted by his greatest achievements and too often identified with his worst. Fans and alumni wanted to chase him out of Auburn, until the Tigers went 13-0 in his senior season. Fans and coaches and front office personnel wanted to nudge him out of Washington, leading to his being traded to Oakland in April of last year.

The Raiders showered Campbell with love and affection, immediately designating him their starting quarterback.

That commitment lasted six quarters into the 2010 season, when Campbell was replaced by journeyman Bruce Gradkowski, who became ... the people's choice.

A year later, Campbell once again is the starter and knows the drill. He has to convince the skeptics. As the Raiders begin their 2011 season Monday night at Denver's Sports Authority Field at Mile High, the 29-year-old quarterback may have more on the line than first-year head coach Hue Jackson.

To the question in the mind of fans in Oakland and elsewhere, there is but one satisfactory answer.

"Win the AFC West, get to the playoffs and show them that I can win," Campbell says.

NFL observers have studied Campbell for six years, wondering if he will become a star. Raiders fans watched him for parts of one season, and still don't trust him to bring a winner to Oakland. Though Campbell more often was the superior QB, home crowds were quick to express their loyalty to Gradkowski, the scrappy career backup.

The situation was familiar to Campbell, who experienced it as a boy in little Taylorsville, Miss.

"In high school, people said, 'The only reason you're going to play is because your daddy is a coach.' So I had to go out and prove I was better than that," he recalls. "Then I went to college, and everyone said, 'Well, he came from a small high school. Can he really lead an SEC team?' So I became the winningest quarterback in Auburn history, helped lead the team to an undefeated season and had one of the best years Auburn has ever had.

"Ever since I was a child, I've always been doubted. I use it as motivation."

A Parade All-American at Taylorsville High, where his father, Larry, was an assistant football coach and head basketball coach, Campbell as a senior was named Gatorade Player of the Year in Mississippi. At least two recruiting services rated him the nation's No. 2 prep QB.

After decommitting from LSU, signing with Auburn and failing to become an instant star, Campbell was the object of wrath. He put up solid numbers under four offensive coordinators in four seasons, but not until his senior year did fans jump off his back.

That only made space for fans in Washington, which drafted Campbell 25th overall in 2005. Campbell made his first start in 2006 and over four seasons, despite an absence of continuity, didn't satisfy many in the area.

"I've gone through everything you can possibly see as a quarterback," he says. "It was changing systems every year, different quarterback coaches every year ... one year a bunch of our linemen got hurt and we ended up picking up guys off the street to come in and block guys like Justin Tuck and DeMarcus Ware.

"Even with all that going on, there's always people saying I have to do more, that they want to see more. I understand. Some quarterbacks just have it that way. You have to keep proving yourself over and over and over."

Campbell's predicament is not unlike that facing 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, except Jason may be more secure -- finally.

"He knows he doesn't have to look over his shoulder," Jackson says. "But there's a performance level he needs to reach. I think he will. For one, he has goals of his own. For two, he feels a sense of responsibility to his team. He knows we're going to follow him."

Campbell says he began feeling the Raiders were "my team" last season, when he led them to an impressive win at San Diego. That bond was strengthened after training camp under Jackson and new offensive coordinator Al Saunders, who spent a year with Jason in Washington.

"This is probably the most comfortable that I've been," Campbell says. "It's not just because of (Jackson and Saunders), but the effort the guys are bringing to practice. And we have a strong running game, so I can lean on Darren McFadden and Michael Bush and spread the ball around."

Beginning Monday night, Campbell may be looking at his last best chance to define his career. A national TV audience will be watching and waiting and wondering.

"If he can do this the way I know he can," Jackson says, "this will go down, in my opinion, as one of his greatest accomplishments in life."

Contact Monte Poole at mpoole@bayareanewsgroup.com.