Buckeyes find help at running back

Bill Rabinowitz
brabinow@dispatch.com
Running back Marcus Crowley of Trinity Christian changed his commitment to Ohio State from Miami. [Will Dickey/Florida Times-Union]

Tony Alford probably wasn’t the happiest guy when he boarded a plane to Jacksonville, Florida, to visit Marcus Crowley after Ohio State’s loss to Purdue.

The Buckeyes’ running backs coach had seen his players run for only 69 yards against the Boilermakers, but there was no time for sulking. Recruiting stops for no coach, especially an Ohio State one on an off week.

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The Buckeyes had lost one of their two running backs in their 2019 class when Sampson James flipped to Indiana two weeks earlier, leaving only Steele Chambers. There was urgency when Alford went to Trinity Christian Academy to persuade Crowley to reconsider his commitment to the University of Miami.

His pitch worked. Alford spent the day at Trinity Christian and attended the Conquerors’ practice. After Crowley’s visit to Columbus this past weekend, he committed. He plans to enroll in January.

“I just felt it was the best position for me to be successful, academically and sports-wise,” Crowley said.

Crowley is ranked as a three-star prospect, but his coach believes that’s underselling him.

“Absolutely,” said Trinity coach Verlon Dorminey, who’s in his 28th season at the school.

He explained that the 6-foot-1, 200-pound back was slowed last year by a shoulder sprain and bruised ribs, causing him to fly under the radar.

“When you coach a kid and you know his heart and his ability,” Dorminey said, “and you know what a five-star is and you know what a one-star is. I can tell you this: He ain’t just no average three-star football player.”

His statistics back that up. Crowley averaged a stunning 10.3 yards per carry while gaining 1,550 yards during an undefeated regular season. Florida’s playoffs start this weekend.

“I’m not really surprised because I’ve been working for this,” Crowley said. “I set a goal for myself to get 2,000 yards, and I’m on the right path so far. I just have to get over 100 yards in my last five games to get to the state game, and I’ll reach my goal.”

Crowley dazzled from the start. He ran for 216 yards in 14 carries against highly regarded Braden River in the opener. That included a 95-yarder to spark Trinity Christian after it fell behind.

“It was pretty phenomenal,” Dorminey said. “He ran through people, around some people, made some people miss.”

Crowley has that gaudy yards-per-carry average despite not having blazing speed. He said that’s one phase of his game he wants to improve.

“He’s a big, physical back that runs hard between the tackles,” 247Sports director of recruiting Steve Wiltfong said. “He’s probably more in the line of getting you 80 on 10 carries instead of one (at the college level).”

Trinity Christian is the same school that produced redshirt freshman Ohio State defensive back Shaun Wade. Dorminey said they are similar in having even-keeled personalities and being well-liked.

“He’s a determined young man,” he said of Crowley. “People follow him. He leads by example and always has a smile on his face. He knows how to treat people and does a great job in the classroom.”

Even with Mike Weber considered a lock to leave after this year, Crowley will join a crowded running back unit.

“If you want to get on the field at Ohio State, you have to have courage and a competitive nature because Ohio State is loaded across the board athletically at every position,” Wiltfong said. “There are a lot of alpha personalities and alpha competitors, and he seems to fit in in that regard.”

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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