Crawford-Tufts ended track dreams for football

Crawford-Tufts ended track dreams for football

Published Apr. 11, 2012 10:38 a.m. ET

MINNEAPOLIS – Devin Crawford-Tufts has left a lot of things behind. He left a track career with high expectations, some unmet. He left what should be asterisks by the names of the 2011 Minnesota boys state champions in the 100- and 200-yard dashes, events that were his to win before a hamstring injury sidelined him. He left behind a family history, a mother who was a college sprinter at Wisconsin.

He left behind the kind of hypotheticals that would tempt any athlete, claims from two of his high school coaches that he'd have a shot at the Olympic trials in the 200 if he put his mind to it. He abandoned those solitary notions, notions he could control in favor of team, in favor of jostling for a spot and allowing his hopes and talent to depend on at least in part on others.

Devin Crawford-Tufts chose football.

The wide receiver, who was a standout sprinter and football player at Edina High School, will play his sophomore season this fall for the Minnesota Gophers football team. In his freshman year, he played in nine games, catching eight passes for 156 yards, and Crawford-Tufts figures to be a big part of the Gophers' offense in 2012 because of his explosive speed and the departure of senior Da'Jon McKnight.

"If you don't have a deep threat, that field gets shrunk down, and then everyone else, the other 10 guys, have to be that much better players," offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover said. "When you can spread the field vertically, there's a lot of things that open up… so with Devin's speed and what he had done, his progression is huge for our progression as an offense."

That's a lot of pressure for a sophomore, for a kid who's caught just eight passes in his entire college career. For a kid with a smile as wide and innocent as his. For a kid who can't really admit that he's one of the program's top prospects. Crawford-Tufts is all that, but somehow he shoulders it. He has that mix of talent and humility that makes it easy for him to seem oblivious to how good he is, all the while knowing exactly how much he can do.

He was one of the best sprinters to come out of Minnesota in years – that's from his high school football coach, Reed Boltmann. He's the kind of kid every football coach should want to recruit – that's from his high school track coach, David Boone. "Get him that football, and good things will happen." – that's from Limegrover, a man who looks too gruff to deal such a compliment.

People seem to like this kid.

"You can work all your life and try to teach kids how to be that fast, that explosive, but the good lord has got to give you some of those genes and genetic makeup to be that fast," Boltmann said.

He has what Boltmann calls "NFL speed," and he clocked a 21.82 200 when he won the event in the 2010 Minnesota state championship. Boone said that if Crawford-Tufts hadn't been injured his senior season, he'd have clocked faster than 21 seconds in the event, and if he's ever pushed by Big Ten competition, he's capable of a time around 20 seconds.

All of that would rely on just him, just Devin Crawford-Tufts and two healthy legs. But the wide receiver – because that's what he is now, a sprinter who happens to catch passes – will face a role next season that's about a lot more than just him. It's about making his team better, perhaps even being the catalyst for quarterback MarQueis Gray's breakout season.

"It's a really interesting kind of thing," Crawford-Tufts said. "This is (MarQueis's) year, and Da'Jon being gone, we need somebody to step up and multiple people to step up, and I'm pretty excited."

But Crawford-Tufts isn't one of those multiple people. He's the somebody. He's too fast to be that big, too big to be that fast. He's a unique athlete, and as excited as he might be to help Gray, the quarterback is just as thrilled at his presence.

When Gray first heard that Crawford-Tufts had signed with Minnesota, he took a look at some of his track videos. The only word he could use to describe them: "Whoa." That's really all that's necessary. Even the video of Crawford-Tufts suffering that hamstring injury impressed Gray – "He must have been running pretty fast if he could do that."

Somehow, it all seems to circle back to speed, track. It's where Crawford-Tufts's value lies, where his unmet potential resides, where he wins races and catches coaches' eyes. It should be more difficult, to give up a sport that defines your role in another, but for Crawford-Tufts, it was barely even a decision. Football was his first love, and he's been playing it as long as he can remember. He didn't start running track until high school, and though he enjoyed it, it was never his favorite. And then there's the economics, the half-scholarship that track would offer in contrast to the full ride of football. There are the phone calls from Jim Tressel to Boltmann when Tressel was still at Ohio State. ("Nobody‘s ever called me from Ohio State before.") There are the opportunities and the options that football affords, the attention that it offers, and suddenly, it all makes sense.

Crawford-Tufts is where he belongs. He's there because of what he's left behind, and really, it may not all be behind him. There are still options for the 19-year-old, still the chance to return to running without having to chase a football. But right now, none of that matters. Just as Limegrover said, get him the ball, and good things will come.

He has the ball. In the fall, people are expecting those good things.

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