Star-Bulletin Sports

Tuesday, January 29, 2002


Heisman Trophy winner Eric Crouch, left, chatted with former Hawaii football coach Dick Tomey yesterday on Maui.

Maui is Crouch’s

He'll finish his college career
in Saturday's Hula Bowl and
await April's NFL draft

By Paul Arnett

WAILUKU, Maui >> Eric Crouch blended into the crowd at Kahului Airport as easily as any other tourist arriving in Maui.

He and his family were still feeling the effects of traveling from Omaha, Neb., to Denver to San Francisco to the Valley Isle as he patiently waited for his luggage to fall into place. Other than the Hula Bowl officials who dropped a lei around his neck, and a couple of local reporters, Crouch's Maui debut yesterday was uneventful.

The quarterback for Nebraska hopes to change all that this week as he embarks on another journey in his already star-studded career. The winner of the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Player of the Year, Davey O'Brien Quarterback Award and consensus first-team All-American realizes the past has little meaning for his future.

Like the other 90-something players taking part in Saturday's Hula Bowl at War Memorial Stadium, he's just trying to find his way for an equally fulfilling career in the National Football League.

Yes, he plans to enjoy himself this week, soak up what this tropical paradise has to offer, but for Crouch, this is more business than pleasure.

He doesn't mind the Hula Bowl being the final game of his collegiate career.

The 6-foot, 200-pounder just wants it to be the first step toward life in the pros.

"I'm excited to be here, obviously," Crouch said. "It's a new experience for me. I'm going to have to pick up a new offense. Nebraska is a one of a kind there, so it will be fun to meet some new players, to pick up a new system and go out and enjoy myself. Obviously, it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Crouch's numbers at the collegiate level helped make this experience possible. He was a three-year starter at Nebraska, where he rushed for 3,434 yards and 59 touchdowns, and passed for 4,481 yards and 29 scores. In 2001, he became the 13th player in NCAA history to rush and pass for 1,000 yards in a single season.

His 59 rushing touchdowns is an NCAA record, and he is only one of three quarterbacks to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 4,000. Crouch also tied an NCAA record for scoring a touchdown via the run, pass and reception in a game (vs. California in 1999) and has the longest touchdown run in Nebraska history at 95 yards.

But where does a predominantly option quarterback fit in the NFL? Former Nebraska quarterback Scott Frost, who also played in the Hula Bowl, found life as a safety more to his liking in the NFL. And while Crouch is open to suggestions from scouts and coaches he will meet this week, he'd like to be under center most of all.

"I want to play quarterback," Crouch said. "But I understand that I could also play a few other positions. Running back and receiver are things that have been mentioned. On the defensive side of the ball, there hasn't really been much talk.

"I think after my junior season and the year I had last year running the football and throwing, I think quarterback and running back have really been the main things that have been talked about."

The Big 12 Player of the Year also demonstrated he can play in the pressure games. He led Nebraska to 11 consecutive victories this year, before closing out the 2001 campaign with losses to Colorado and Miami in the national championship game.

And while Crouch wasn't able to add a national title to his resume, the fact he has succeeded on the national stage can't hurt his chances at the next level.

"There were many, many things that happened this year that really kind of turned my career around," Crouch said. "It made it that much more exciting and memorable. Obviously, the Heisman Trophy is one thing that sticks out. But playing in the Rose Bowl, having that opportunity, winning the Davey O'Brien and the Walter Camp Player of the Year, those things are just added benefits.

"I never would have expected that, coming into this year. I exceeded my own expectations and hopefully I can just keep that going."

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