DURHAM There have been a few times in the past month when Jamison Crowder has gone back and looked at the tape of his game-winning catch against North Carolina. For the Duke wide receiver, a season full of what-ifs culminated in that moment, sealing the victory that got the Blue Devils to the bowl game they’ll play Thursday.
“Sometimes, I look back and say, ‘What if I would have dropped it,’ you know?” Crowder said. “But I’m not at all surprised I didn’t drop it. At that point in time, my focus, locked into the ballgame, my intensity was at an all-time high. I was just so focused at that point and knew how crucial the situation was.”
Long before this season even started, Duke’s coaches looked at Blair Holliday as a potential breakout star, a playmaker at wide receiver. In July, Holliday’s personal watercraft collided with Crowder’s, badly injuring Holliday. Crowder, of all people, ended up filling the void.
The accident and Crowder’s own mental recovery from his role in it aside, his emergence as a go-to receiver is a story in itself. Playing alongside serial record-setter Conner Vernon and converted running back Desmond Scott, the sophomore has carved out his own niche on the field.
“All three of those guys have really worked well together,” offensive lineman Dave Harding said. “They’re all pretty selfless, in terms of if they have to run a route and they know they’re not getting the ball, they do it to pull a defender away and they do it to the best of their ability.”
Without overwhelming size at 5-foot-9, 175 pounds, he’s done it with equal parts explosive athleticism and hard work.
Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said Crowder is as quick and nimble as any of the ACC receivers he plays against on a regular basis. Meanwhile, Crowder spent extra time working with Vernon, Scott and quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Anthony Boone over the summer, preparing for an expanded role.
“I just felt like my game had kind of evolved to the next level, from high school and from last year,” Crowder said. “When the season started, I just had a lot of confidence in myself.”
Crowder caught only 14 passes last season, but he exploded for 70 catches, 1,025 yards and eight touchdowns this season. No single catch was bigger than the last-minute touchdown against North Carolina to cap the game-winning drive after the Tar Heels had taken a late lead, and no single game more impressive than his 203-yard, two-touchdown performance against Miami to close out the regular season.
And he did it while battling injuries that held him out of practice most weeks and kept him from returning kicks and punts, a duty he might resume against Cincinnati on Thursday.
“At this time a year ago, I was thinking we should have used Jamison more his true freshman year,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s just a great athlete. I don’t think there’s much Jamison can’t do. I watched him play basketball in high school. He’s got great ball skills, tremendous quickness and speed, great strength.”
Crowder’s reward for all this success: a trip home to Charlotte for the Belk Bowl, only a half-hour from his hometown of Monroe. A long, sometimes difficult season comes to its conclusion now, although Crowder might just be getting started.
“It’s been a great year for me personally,” Crowder said. “Just coming out, working, having good games against elite teams. It’s really helped my confidence out a lot. I just want to built on that, end the season off with a good game against Cincinnati.”
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