News flash: Harding High senior Quavaris Crouch, once considered the nation’s top recruit at running back, doesn’t plan to run the ball nearly as much this season.
“I’m going to play a lot more linebacker this year,” Crouch said. “(There will be) a lot less running back, so it’ll be a lot more hitting.”
Crouch, 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds, is ranked as the No. 9 overall high school football player in America by Rivals.com. He’s ranked as the No. 1 “athlete,” a term for recruits who aren’t tied to a specific position.
Despite running for 3,283 yards and 33 touchdowns last season, and leading Harding to its first state championship since 1953, Crouch still isn’t sure what position he’ll play in college.
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“Honestly,” he said, “I’m still trying to figure that out.”
Crouch has offers from ACC schools such as Clemson, N.C. State and North Carolina, and he has offers from SEC schools such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia. His offer list also includes other national powers such as Notre Dame, Ohio State and Texas.
For now, Crouch is not talking much about his potential choice, only saying he was planning to stay at Harding through June graduation, and not leave school in December like many elite football recruits do.
“I don’t even want to talk about it,” he said of his recruitment.
Crouch isn’t sure when he’ll pick a school yet, but he does know what he wants.
“What’s important to me?” he said. “Going (to a college) and building a brotherhood and having a coach I can trust. I put trust first and being happy, that’s what makes you play good — being happy and trusting somebody you know will put you in position to be good, and that they will be there for you even if you’re not as good as they thought.”
It didn’t take long for first-year Harding coach Robert Cross to be impressed by his star senior. Cross was surprised by Crouch’s quiet demeanor, despite his being such a top-tier recruit. He said he didn’t see any ego, just a lot of hard work.
“I see what all the fuss is about,” Cross said. “I love his talent. I love his mindset. He embraces Harding, and he’s glad to be back with his teammates. ... He understands the responsibility, the load that’s placed on his shoulders, and he’s handling it well.”
And a lot has changed since the last time Crouch was on the field for a high school game, when he ran 23 times for 141 yards to lead the Rams to a 30-22 win over Scotland in the N.C. 4A championship game.
More than half of the team’s starters graduated, including star quarterback Braheam Murphy, who is now at Army. Harding’s coach, Sam Greiner, left for Harrisburg Hickory Ridge after giving Harding its first winning season since 2007.
Greiner, though, thinks that Crouch — and Harding — will be just fine.
Greiner talked about Crouch’s Twitter handle, “Juup Juup.” Crouch’s Twitter page includes a big picture of Jesus Christ as a backdrop.
“It means ‘Jesus United Under Praise,’ ” Greiner said of Crouch, who is a devout Christian. “ ’Juup’ is a wonderful thing because he understands the gift he’s been given. He is a great specimen and he wants to honor God with it. He is saying he’s not a finished product yet, that he’s under construction and he is going to keep grinding for (God).”
Greiner said he and Crouch still speak often, and he wants the best for his friend and former star.
“He will be as good as he wants to be,” Greiner said. “I hope he knows he doesn’t have to prove anything. He’s given (Harding) so much, that if he wants to play defense all year, that’s fine. He doesn’t owe them to run the ball.”
Greiner thinks that Crouch’s future is on defense, something that aligns with Crouch’s goal to play professionally and take care of his family. Greiner notes that NFL running backs have shorter careers and generally make less money than linebackers or defensive ends.
“In college, he could (play running back and defense),” Greiner said. “But I know what his dreams are. He wants to be one of the greatest of all time, and the way to do that is on the defensive side. I think he can be a Lawrence Taylor-type player. He really can.”
Three years ago, when Crouch was a freshman on a 1-10 team, Greiner told a reporter that one day Crouch would be the best high school football player in America.
Last spring, Crouch ascended to No. 1 overall in some of the national rankings.
Now, he’s a top 10 senior who is back to lead a team that returns 10 starters and has eight other Division I recruits. And Crouch said he’s determined to keep his school relevant, even if he’s not running the ball as much as he has in the past.
Cross, the first-year Rams’ coach, thinks his star athlete is more than capable of that.
“Coaching him is just like having another kid around me, like a freshman or a sophomore,” Cross said. “Only he’s built like a college sophomore. You can tell the difference as soon as you hand him the ball, and then you know. But this year, he’ll do a little bit of running back and (linebacker). Remember, he’s the No. 1 athlete. So right now, we’ll play it by ear and feel it out as we go through the season.”