Overlooked Crowley is passing test

Ken Rosenthal

November 14, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

The typical freshman quarterback arrives on campus with a big reputation, a slingshot arm and an imposing physique. He then disappears from sight, practicing diligently and carrying a clipboard until the starting job is his.

Now along comes Dan Crowley, shrugging his boyish shoulders inside his blue DeMatha High School jacket. Along comes Dan Crowley, reviving the dormant Towson State football program almost overnight.

Typical freshman quarterback.

Someone's playing a joke, right?

Crowley, 18, goes 0-for-3 on the big reputation, the slingshot arm, the imposing physique. But now he's starting at Towson, the only school that offered him a scholarship. Starting and throwing a mere 50 passes per game.

He didn't exactly crawl out from under a rock, and he didn't exactly fall out of the sky. But in a span of nine months, he somehow went from victim of circumstance to master of the universe. Classic sports story. Go figure.

Coach Phil Albert says the 6-foot-1, 175-pound Crowley "looks like a little kid," but little kids get to play when their team is 0-6. Crowley lost his first two starts, then helped Towson beat Howard 13-6 for its first victory last week.

The Tigers likely will finish 1-10, but at least Albert has found himself a quarterback -- a quarterback he didn't even list on his preseason depth chart, a quarterback who as a starter has completed 78 of 150 passes for 952 yards and eight TDs.

To think, Crowley barely made it to this level. Rarely is a high school team too good for its quarterback's own good. Yet that was the case at DeMatha, where Crowley got lost as one of 14 seniors who earned Division I football scholarships last year.

Fourteen scholarship players, probably enough to give Towson a game. USA Today ran a photo of the entire group. It's amazing DeMatha lost even once, but it happened, against McNamara. It's even more amazing DeMatha is 7-2 without the Class of '91 this year.

The recruiters loved Joe Gibbs' son Coy at linebacker, loved place-kicker David DeArmas, loved the mammoth Teter twins and a host of others. But they completely ignored Crowley, who didn't throw much his senior year.

"You tell them you have this boy, that boy, so many -- they look at you like you're crazy," DeMatha coach Bill McGregor says. "Danny got overshadowed by some other kids. I knew he could be a Division I quarterback. But I couldn't get anybody to take a chance on him."

Crowley, in fact, was actually Towson's fourth choice, behind two potential junior college transfers and a high school kid who went to Delaware. Albert wanted a quarterback who could play immediately. Crowley never fit that description.

But he became Albert's only alternative. Crowley didn't visit Towson until the week before the February deadline for national letters of intent. Assistant coach Jay Robinson played host. Albert raced back from a recruiting trip to Virginia to meet with Crowley and his father the next day.

Crowley visited Northeastern, but got the offer from Towson. Looking back, both he and Albert were like reluctant prom dates who never guessed they'd enter a full-blown romance. The question now is, why didn't Albert play Crowley sooner? The answer is simple. Because he's a freshman, silly.

Albert couldn't build a college offense around a player who was still in high school during spring practice. Instead he converted senior linebacker and co-captain Gary Worthington to quarterback, a position he hadn't played since high school.

The idea was for the defense to keep Towson competitive, and for the offense to simply control the ball. It didn't sound so crazy at first, not after the Tigers opened with 10-8 and 13-7 losses in games they fumbled inside the 5. But then they allowed 45, 54, 55 and 50 points. Ouch.

"I'm not brain dead," Albert says. "I'm not going to go down with the ship. Gary Worthington did everything we asked. He went back on defense and led the team in tackles the next week. There was no failure in Gary. The failure was in the plan."

Albert's teams averaged 200 yards per game passing from 1982-90, but Worthington threw only three passes in his first start, the fewest attempts in school history. Crowley, meanwhile, threw 56 in his debut, a record at the other extreme.

He's a freshman, so he still gets confused by an offense that often includes five wide receivers and requires constant audibles at the line. "There's probably no way I could have run this offense at the beginning of the season," Crowley says. "I probably miss 10 audibles each game."

Still, who could have imagined this? Before Towson's first game Crowley asked Albert if he was going to sit out the season as a red-shirt. Now he's confident enough to predict that the Tigers "should come out and lose three games at the most" next year.

Albert likes that. Indeed, he likes the whole package. Crowley's presence. His potential. His vision. "When we made the change back to throwing, it pumped a new air of confidence back into the program," Albert says. "Practices all of a sudden were more lively. There was hope."

Frank Meriweather, meet Dan Crowley.

Dan Crowley, meet your destiny.

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