Crabtree is no catch of the day
Michael Crabtree by the numbers
LUBBOCK, Texas – Before Michael Irvin would talk – before he’d share details about his relationship with Michael Crabtree – the NFL Hall of Famer said he needed to ask permission.
But Irvin was having trouble reaching the Texas Tech receiver he’s mentored for the past year. Once during the afternoon and again in the evening earlier this week, Irvin attempted to call the 21-year-old sophomore. Each time, the result was the same.
“The number you’ve dialed is not a working number,” a message said. “Please check the number and dial again.”
The recording wasn’t an error.
Earlier that day, Crabtree contacted his cellular company and asked for new digits. His father said his son’s phone has been “blowing up” ever since his game-winning touchdown catch against top-ranked Texas two weeks ago. Everyone from reporters to relatives he didn’t know existed to “friends” he hasn’t heard from in years.
“So many people,” Michael Crabtree Sr. said, “want a piece of him.”
That includes the folks who bombarded Crabtree this week at South Plains Mall in Lubbock. Crabtree popped in on Monday to buy a shirt and a bag of sweets from his favorite cookie shop, but after an hour, he left empty-handed.
“I must’ve posed for pictures with 20 different people,” Crabtree said later that afternoon. “When it was time to leave, I hadn’t even got what I needed.
“I’m telling you, it’s crazy around here right now. You can’t do normal stuff.”
“I don’t mind, though,” he said. “If I’ve got to play that role, I’ll play it.”
As well as he’s adapting to his status as the “it” guy at Texas Tech, folks in Lubbock still aren’t sure how to act when they see Crabtree’s gray Chevy Tahoe rolling through campus.
At 10-0, the Red Raiders are on the cusp of their first Big 12 championship thanks to Crabtree, who’s already being hailed as the top NFL prospect in school history despite playing less than two college seasons.
Cheerleaders do the “crab walk” each time Crabtree scores a touchdown. Texas Tech’s media relations department has launched a Heisman campaign for him and quarterback Graham Harrell, and almost every week, former Dallas Cowboys standouts Irvin and Deion Sanders call to offer advice.
Unless, of course, they can’t get through.
” (Irvin) definitely wants to talk to you about (Crabtree),” says Clarence Carter, who produces Irvin’s radio show. “But he won’t do it until he talks to him first. He respects him that much.”
When he was hired in March of 2006, Gail-David Dupree became the third principal at Dallas’ Carter High School within a single academic year. He said he’ll never forget his inaugural week on the job.
Hundreds of students – many of them on cell phones – walked the halls after the tardy bell had rung. Girls sported sunglasses in class and boys’ britches sagged below their hips.
“There were 11 fights in my first seven days,” Dupree said. “It was total chaos. I thought I’d been sent to Iraq.”
“The one thing I noticed,” he said, “is that the football players weren’t involved in any of that stuff – especially not Michael Crabtree.”
Indeed, even though he attended one of the roughest high schools in Dallas, Crabtree’s bright future in sports always steered him clear of the trouble that infested the halls and neighborhoods surrounding Carter.
Crabtree’s potential in football was evident from the moment he stepped onto the field for his father’s little league team. The first time he carried the ball for the Moreland YMCA Cowboys flag football team, he barreled over a defender at the line of scrimmage and dashed 80 yards for a touchdown.
In grade school, when it came time for pads and tackling, Michael Crabtree Sr. forced his son to play in leagues that featured players two and three years older. Dad never heard one complaint.
“I actually cried the few times he made me play against people my age,” Crabtree said. “I was like, ‘Dad, I don’t want to hurt those little kids.’”
When Crabtree enrolled at Carter, coach Allen Wilson knew immediately this player had a chance to have a great impact at a tradition-rich school that produces four to five top division signees each year.
Wilson recalled Crabtree approaching him on the sideline during a freshman game and asking him to insert him at cornerback. Crabtree told Wilson that he was friends with one of the opposing players.
“He’s fast, coach,” Crabtree told Wilson. “Let me cover him. Let me get him.”
Crabtree’s wish was granted after the player burned Carter’s cornerback for a touchdown on the game’s opening possession.
“He shut him down for the rest of the game,” Wilson said. “I knew then that he was special. Any time someone is begging to be thrown into the heat, into the fire … they’ve got something you can’t coach. He doesn’t fail very often.”
Crabtree’s athletic prowess extended beyond the football field.
By the time he was a junior, college coaches were flocking to AAU tournaments and to Carter to watch Crabtree play basketball. He averaged 20.8 points as a senior, which drew the attention of former Texas Tech coach Bob Knight.
“One game,” Crabtree said, “I dunked the ball and started talking noise to some guys I knew on the other team. I heard Coach Knight scream, ‘Michael, quit talking (trash) and play basketball.’ I shut up after that.”
The incident didn’t deter Knight from pursuing Crabtree. Knight’s son, Pat, who is now the Red Raiders’ head coach, said Crabtree would’ve been one of the top players in the Big 12 had he chosen to stick with hoops But Crabtree eventually decided his talents were best suited for the football field.
Even though he played quarterback as a junior and senior at Carter, college coaches could sense that the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Crabtree was a natural fit for receiver at the next level. That was especially the case at Texas Tech, where Crabtree’s cousin, Ricky Williams, had starred as a running back in the late 1990s.
Back then, under Spike Dykes, the Red Raiders were known for their ground attack with all-conference tailbacks such as Williams, Byron Hanspard and Bam Morris. But when Mike Leach took over in 2000, Texas Tech switched to the spread and began throwing 40-50 passes a game.
“It was the perfect fit for Michael,” Crabtree’s father said. “I’m not really surprised by what he’s done there. But I don’t think anyone – not even me – expected him to do this well this fast.”
Even though he committed to Texas Tech a few weeks before National Signing Day in 2006, Michael Crabtree continued to field calls from Mike Leach up until the morning he faxed in his letter of intent.
“He absolutely hated talking on the phone,” Leach said. “He would always say, ‘Coach, I told you I was going to Tech. I don’t know why you keep calling. I enjoy talking to you, but we had a late practice today, so I’m going to bed. I’ll see you later.’
“It was always very abrupt. He’s not into these long, flowery conversations. He just focuses on football.”
Crabtree has always been the quiet type who shies away from attention. Heck, he didn’t even take a date to his senior prom.
“But there were still plenty of girls asking to take pictures with him,” said Dupree, the principal.
Crabtree said he doesn’t understand why fans and strangers seem so awestruck in his presence. If anything, he seems embarrassed by the bumper stickers and website that’s part of his and Harrell’s Heisman campaign.
“I really, truly don’t care about most of that stuff,” Crabtree said. “It’s just a bunch of people’s opinions. As long as we win, that’s all that matters.”
The Red Raiders have been doing just that with Crabtree, who needed just 23 games to move into eighth place on the NCAA’s career touchdown receptions list with 40. Crabtree is only 98 receiving yards of breaking Wes Welker’s school record of 3,069.
As well as his college career has gone, Crabtree didn’t get off to the best start at Texas Tech. He missed the 2006 season when the NCAA Clearinghouse refused to certify him because of a questionable grade from his sophomore year of high school.
Crabtree was disheartened by the situation – he never attended a Red Raiders game that season – but he didn’t let it deter him.
Instead Crabtree made frequent trips back to Dallas to work out with his cousin, David Wells, a former bodyguard for Irvin and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Wells also trains professional boxers in a non-air-conditioned adjacent to his home. Crabtree became a staple there, jumping rope, punching speed bags and heavy bags and lifting weights.
Wells ordered a second set of the equipment and had it sent to Crabtree’s home in Lubbock. With each workout, Crabtree’s intensity increased. His teammates said they could see the difference his efforts were making on the field.
At times, a few of Crabtree’s teammates even became irritated with him for running through tackles too hard during what many felt was supposed to be a “light” practice.
“He’s the most fierce competitor I’ve ever been around,” defensive back Darcel McBath said. “Even when the ball isn’t coming to him, he’s blocking his tail off. He’s trying to drive people out of bounds or into the turf.
“Whether he has the ball in his hands or not, he wants every play to go 80 yards.”
– David Wells, professional trainer
Crabtree won the Biletnikoff Award after a freshman season in which he also earned first-team All-American honors. The success hardly caused him to become complacent.
Instead Crabtree spent most of this past summer in Lubbock working out with Harrell, who’s considered the current leader in this year’s Heisman race.
Crabtree said he and Harrell spent their afternoons running 10-yard routes up and down the field at Jones AT&T Stadium, stopping near the end zone for three consecutive plays from the goal line. Down and back, down and back they went – without any water.
“Doing that every day in this Texas heat?” Crabtree said. “Now that’s a workout.”
Maybe the most beneficial experience, though, came when Sanders invited Crabtree to attend his camp at SMU last summer. With NFL all-stars such as Devin Hester and T.J. Houshmandzadeh looking on, Crabtree went one-on-one with Pacman. More times than not, the college kid beat the pro.
“It was remarkable,” Wells said. “He looked like he’d already been playing in the NFL for years. Pacman, naturally, was all mad and pissed off about it. But in the end he couldn’t help but compliment Michael and show his respect.”
Crabtree’s maturation off the field has been striking, too. Last spring he returned to Dallas and went to a party with some of his friends from high school. The next day Wells learned that Crabtree had returned home before midnight.
“He said there was some stuff going on that he didn’t want to be around,” said Wells, who declined to provide specifics. “You’re not going to catch him smoking. You’re not going to catch him drinking. You’re not going to catch him doing things he’s not supposed to do.
“I’m around pro athletes every day and he’s been around them, too. You see how they screw up. You see the money they’ve made and lost. That’s not going to happen to Michael. He’s got his head on straight.”
A few weeks ago Michael Crabtree picked up his cell phone and called Deion Sanders and asked him if he ever used to dream.
Not about money or cars or women or fame, but about making plays and scoring touchdowns.
“I’d been doing that a lot,” Crabtree said, “and I wanted to find out if it was normal. Deion said it was.”
That’s why Crabtree wasn’t surprised when he made the game-winning catch with one second remaining in Texas Tech’s 38-33 victory over Texas on Nov. 1. He said he’d visualized the play countless times in his sleep.
Some snickered at Crabtree’s comments, but Leach believed every word.
“I bet he thought it through thousands of times,” Leach said. “That’s the thing about Michael: He’s not doing this for a bunch of attention or trophies. Michael just loves football at a level that most players don’t.”
Leach said one of his favorite all-time quotes came from Crabtree after the game that night.
“Someone asked him about the next opponent and about playing in all these big games against ranked teams,” Leach said. “Michael just said, ‘I never think about any of that. All I see are balls in the air.’”