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Jeff Kolpack, Published August 03 2012

Smoother road ahead for NDSU running back after two years away from football

FARGO – It hit home to John Crockett when he walked into the North Dakota State football locker room and saw his nameplate on his locker.


Finally, two years of academic sweat and tears paid off. Finally, after being out of football since the fall of 2009, he had a uniform to put on. Finally, after hearing the when-will-he-be-eligible question for two years – he’s eligible.

No. 23 fit the sophomore perfectly on Friday.

“I can’t keep a smile off my face,” he said.

Whether he’ll make Bison fans smile this fall remains to be seen, but Crockett arrived in fall camp as one of the most intriguing recruits in recent years. He had offers from virtually every Big Ten Conference school as a senior at Totino-Grace High School in the Twin Cities, but those went away when he didn’t pass the NCAA Clearinghouse, the academic threshold for preps to gain college eligibility.

Michigan State wanted him. Illinois wanted him. Minnesota wanted him. Everybody in the Big Ten made pushes at him except Northwestern, he said. There weren’t many that didn’t want him.

Nothing was ever really cushy for him, however. A 2009 story in the St. Paul Pioneer Press newspaper documented the hardships that included some rough moments growing up in north Minneapolis to attention deficit diagnosis.

“As you may know, it’s been a tough road,” he said Friday at NDSU’s annual media day. “There were always times when I was scared of a little adversity. But sometimes, you have to go through that adversity to reach success.”

Bison head coach Craig Bohl made it a point on Friday to compliment Crockett on his resolve and resiliency. Crockett said what kept him motivated the last two years was watching NDSU’s success and wanting to be a part of it.

“Just watching my boys, watching them go through the grind,” he said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life and there’s nothing more than football that keeps me happy.”

NDSU coaches say they’ve been impressed with his team-first attitude and how Crockett has fit into the system without having yet to play a down.

“When you have coaches who take the time with you, it makes you feel like failure is not an option,” he said. “You have guys putting their necks on the line for me so I have to come through.”

Jump Bison from D1

Crockett still wasn’t 100 percent eligible, but that is expected to be a formality. He said he just finished summer school a couple of days ago and was happy with how it went.

He said two factors got him behind in high school: he wasn’t taking the right core credits and his grade-point average, somewhere around a 2.1, was too low.

But there is no looking back at the Big Ten possibilities, he said.

“I feel like if I was there,” he said of a bigger school, “I wouldn’t feel as comfortable. I wouldn’t be as happy and proud if I was at another school. It makes me relish this opportunity.”

He’s a shifty, explosive running back who is 6-foot and over 200 pounds. Junior Sam Ojuri is the unquestionable starter, so Crockett will be competing with junior Derrick Lang, freshman Matt Jones and junior college transfer Deveon Dinwiddie for playing time.

Bohl said not playing for two years is not as big of a factor at running back then other positions, mainly because natural ability comes more into play.

“For him to be at the brink of playing, that says a lot about his character,” Bohl said. “I’m excited to see what he can do athletically.”

On Friday, Crockett was standing on the new Gate City Bank Field and looked at the empty Fargodome stands. The arena is already sold out for all six home games.

For the first time since 2009, Crockett will no longer be part of just watching a game.

“It doesn’t get better than this,” he said.

Forum reporter Jeff Kolpack can be reached at (701) 241-5546.

Kolpack’s NDSU media blog can be found

at www.areavoices.com/bisonmedia

Kolpack is the host of the WDAY Golf Show Saturdays from 8-9 a.m. on 970-AM.