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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Straight outta Columbus: Seven questions about Isaiah Crowell

It's officially T-minus under a week until National Signing Day, also known as Isaiah Crowell Day around the Georgia football program. The highly-touted Crowell is due to announce his decision on ESPNU next Wednesday afternoon, an event that's been anticipated for some time. His decision is down to Georgia and Alabama.

Chris White has covered Crowell's recruitment and his playing days at Carver High School for the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer. Chris was kind enough to answer some questions about Crowell - and answer them in great detail, as you'll see. You can read his stuff here on his blog. Thanks to my colleague for his time, and I hope everyone gets a little something out of this:

SE: Let's get the major question out of the way: conventional wisdom says Georgia leads for Crowell. What's your sense?

CW: I think he’ll be putting on a Georgia hat on national signing day.

At the start of the season, I thought for sure he would head to Alabama. They were the defending national champions, they started off the season with a far better tone than Georgia did, and a lot was being said about the Tide’s two-running-back approach and Crowell’s relationship with Trent Richardson. There were some rumblings of Mark Richt being out at UGA at the end of the season. Crowell commented to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he wasn’t a big fan of the way several UGA players had recently gotten in trouble. It all seemed to point to Alabama.

But then I started to see that, if he had stuck with Georgia through the tough spots, he obviously had to really like something about it. And then of course things are really starting to shape up for the Bulldogs. They finished the season off with a some scattered positives, Crowell has a great relationship with LB Jarvis Jones, another former Carver star. This “Dream Team” picture is starting to shape up, meaning Crowell knows he won’t be the lone freshman stud on that team and expected to do everything for everyone. And it looks like Crowell would get more playing time at Georgia and do so earlier than at Alabama, which recently landed a commitment from running back Dee Hart.

I downplay some other factors, such as the recent commitment of his close friend and teammate LB Quintavius Harrow and Crowell’s standing as a UGA fan, because I think Crowell is smart enough to see through them and know those things don’t mean much when it comes to being happy with his decision.

SE: Columbus is so much a two-team town. Obviously he's eliminated one of those, Auburn. How much pull do you think Georgia has on him there? Does he know that so many other fans in the state see him as almost the savior of the program?

I think the tens of thousands of Alabama fans in the Columbus area might have something to say about this being just a two-team town, but I agree there is an interesting war around these parts over who gets him. It’s been my experience that the local Auburn fans long ago wrote off Crowell as a future Tigers player and didn’t even raise an eyebrow when he added an Auburn visit to his schedule.

At the same time, the way local fans seem to be approaching him is a lot different than the push and pull of fans on message boards and on Twitter. I’ve heard a lot of people lightheartedly tell him he’d better sign with Georgia or Alabama, and he just smiles and laughs. It all seems like people around Carver and the community are just happy he’s from Columbus and doing something good for himself. And I’ve seen him wear Georgia jackets and Alabama hats, so I don’t think he’s too concerned with where people think his allegiances may be.

As far as people viewing him as a savior for UGA, I can’t really say much of what he thinks of it. He’s a soft-spoken guy, and he doesn’t really let the stress of this whole process show much. On an anecdotal level, it always seems like the great athletes are the ones who want to be the savior, they want the ball on the final play of the game and they want that kind of pressure. I can say he is definitely that kind of leader at the high school level, but he has been very guarded and humble about what he publicly says regarding the weight UGA fans are putting on him.

SE: How much have you seen him play over the years, and how has he progressed as a player?

I began working at the Ledger-Enquirer in the fall of 2008, maybe covered Carver once or twice that season, and took over as the full-time high school sports reporter before the start of the 2009 football season. In all, I have probably covered half of Carver’s home games and, I believe, all of their playoff games in 2009 and 2010.

The biggest thing I have noticed is his physique. It looked like he spent a lot of time working out and putting on some more muscle between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, and I think it showed this season in his ability to break tackles and stiff arm, which if he were a WWE wrestler, would be his trademark finishing move.

As long as I have been covering him, it seems like he averages one or two spectacular, 90-yard touchdown runs a game, so not much has changed in that sense.

SE: Describe his running style.

He’s definitely not afraid to be physical, and it seems like his best runs are the ones where he’s not afraid to go right up the middle and through people. I think the most impressive thing is how well he sees holes open up and uses angles to burn by the last two defenders. I asked him once what allowed him to make so many huge runs and he said it was because he simply saw how things would open up in front of him before it happened.

SE: If he comes to Georgia, there will instantly be a lot of pressure on him to lift the run game. Is that fair? Is he a difference-maker type?

In a many ways, I don’t think that pressure is fair. As far as I know, Isaiah never told anyone in the media or any college fans that he was the best running back in the country. He was just dubbed that by recruiting sites and ESPN and has had to live up to it.

On the other hand, I think he likes the pressure and wants to the The Man whereever he ends up playing. That attitude is what got him to this point and made him the kind of running back people could look at and call the No. 1 guy in the country. If you’re going to consider offers from Georgia and Alabama, you better like that sort of thing.

SE: How does he strike you in terms of being able to handle the hype, the media attention and all that comes with this?

I can say Isaiah is one of the most polite and patient high school athletes I have ever covered, and that is probably in large part due to the practice he’s had dealing with the media. But through the season, there was a shift and you could tell he was just getting tired of fielding calls from me and the dozen or so recruiting reporters who called him and showed up at practices. He used to go out of his way to find me after the game and ask if I needed him for a quote or anything before he got on the bus. But that slowly died off as the press really picked up. And once he got injured, his coaches started to cut off much of the media access to him, which made my job more difficult but was probably the right thing to do on their part.

And just this week Carver coach Dell McGee told me Isaiah and his family have decided not to do any more interviews until national signing day. They want some time and some peace and quiet to figure it all out, he said. That could be viewed as them shunning the media, but I didn’t quite see it that way. If you look at the number of interviews Isaiah and his mom have done this fall, it’s understandable why they wanted to close that valve during the final few days before they have to make this huge decision.

With that said, I think Isaiah will adapt to the media attention at the college level pretty well and, so far, it doesn’t seem that college football fans chanting his name has gone to his head.

SE: Finally, he announces on ESPNU. Is there any chance it leaks out before then, or are Crowell and 'his people' going to be able to do this on their terms.

I think they will be able to have the ceremony without anyone leaking it out beforehand. And if it does come out, I would guess the leak would come from someone at UGA on the night before signing day or early that morning and not through Crowell’s family or friends. And at this point, who would even believe it? It seems like every little move he makes gets UGA and Alabama fans online saying it’s a sure thing one way or the other.

I believe he doesn’t yet know which school he will pick and will likely be considering the decision the entire time leading up to the signing ceremony. While you have some recruits out there dropping hints or making jokes with the media about which way they might turn, Isaiah and his family have decided to close shop to the media while they figure this out. That says to me they have yet to make the big decision.

1 comment:

kevin said...

Far be it from me to dispute the expert that you interviewed, but "tens of thousands of Alabama fans?" Their alumni association list less than 300 registered Alabama alumni in Muskogee Co. Am I underestimating the Alabama Wal-Mart crowd or is your guest prone to bouts of hyperbole?