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Ute may be small, but he’s tough

SHARE Ute may be small, but he’s tough

The University of Utah's one-back football offense is designed for big guys who can block as well as crash straight ahead through holes. Or make their own holes. For Mike Anderson and Omar Bacon. For Juan Johnson and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala. For Jamal Anderson. For the bruisers.

And here's sophomore D'Shaun Crockett. Five-foot-7, 183 pounds.

And he's Utah's No. 1 ball-toter for 2000.

"This is a little harder offense for a little guy," says running backs coach Sean McNabb, "because we run so much between the tackles. But D'Shaun's made a believer out of me. He does everything the big guys do.

"He has quietly worked his little tail off," adds McNabb. "He has paid his dues. And his speed gives a real interesting dimension we haven't had in a long time."

Offensive coordinator Tommy Lee worries a little that if Crockett needs help blocking that the scheme might need to change, and that could create a problem switching to bigger backs like Nick Morgan, Thomas Fortune or Dameon Hunter.

But McNabb has no such trepidations. Nothing will change for Crockett, he says. "He had to adapt to us. We're not going to change for him. And he's done a good job. My hat's off to him. He's a tough little guy," says McNabb.

Crockett, of storied Oak Grove High School in San Jose, Calif., doesn't have the Marine background like Mike Anderson, but he has a militarylike self-discipline that has allowed him to improve over the past two seasons. "It was an uphill battle, and he's been game for it," McNabb says.

"He's very focused. Cool, calm, collected. Just a hard-working guy, all business," says McNabb.

That's a description that Crockett would approve.

He may run in the kind of zigzags that made him a Gridiron Elite teamer, Blue Chip Top 100 recruit and Prep Star all-region player and gave him 1,700 yards and 23 touchdowns as a prep senior, 3,918 career high-school yards and 60 scores. After all, his hero is former Detroit Lions jitter-back Barry Sanders.

But ever since age 5 when he saw his brother play football, he's been focused on a straight line that brought him to college ball. Football, he says, "disciplined me."

He had some setbacks. He had to take first grade twice. "From then on, I was disciplined," Crockett says.

He had to take the SATs a couple of times — good for Utah because Ute coaches assured him they were still interested while other schools looked elsewhere, leading him to cast his lot here. He's not dumb, but he says, "The SATs are tricky." He's not quite so confident at taking big-consequence tests, but he's gotten this far. He credits his mother, Marva Williams, "for letting me know what I needed to do in school."

Crockett has long been familiar with Ute football. He's related to former Ute running back Keith Williams (1991-93). "I watched him all my life, but I didn't think about Utah until my senior year," Crockett says. Also, the late Carl Monroe (Utah 1981-82) was a friend of the family.

Crockett is also familiar with winning football. His Pop Warner team won the national championship with him as its starting running back, and his high school team won the C.C.S. northern-Cal championship.

McNabb says Utah's conditioning coaches have helped Crockett. He is the Utes' strongest running back, benching 315 pounds and squatting 475. He has a 37-inch vertical jump, too, with the team's fastest 10-yard dash, 1.63 seconds.

And McNabb says it wouldn't surprise him if Crockett were to some day make it as an NFL player. "If he couldn't play running back, he'd be a cornerback this fast," he says, snapping his fingers. "He has good feet."

As this season approaches, Crockett feels more prepared than ever. "Last year, I got everything down. I have a grasp of the whole offense. My decisionmaking gets better every day," he says, calling quick decisions his best asset.

With his speed, they have to be quick.

"He hits the hole like a (bleeping) blur," says coach Ron McBride.

E-mail: lham@desnews.com