Out of the Shadows and into the Spotlight
Oct. 31, 2001
From part-time starter to team leader, University of Virginia junior linebacker Angelo Crowell has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts over the past year. One season ago, Crowell started four games at outside linebacker for the Cavaliers, registering a career-high 87 tackles. This season, however, he has become one of the undisputed leaders of Virginia’s defense, pacing the team in tackles and positioning himself as a legitimate candidate for postseason honors.
Crowell has started every game this season at inside linebacker. He led the team in tackles in six of the first seven games, including a career-high 18-tackle effort against Florida State on October 20. He had already exceeded his tackle total from 2000 by the seventh game of the 2001 season, collecting 94 tackles in the Cavaliers’ first seven contests. Crowell’s career high for tackles in a game prior to the 2001 campaign was 13. He has tied or bettered that mark on four occasions this season. Crowell currently leads the Cavaliers, or is tied for the team lead, in several defensive categories, including tackles (solo and assisted), tackles for a loss, and sacks.
Through his first two seasons in a Virginia uniform (1999 and 2000), Crowell showed signs of the impact player he could become. In 1999, Crowell became the first true freshman to start at linebacker for the Cavaliers since Randy Neal in 1991, and last season as a sophomore he ranked fourth in total tackles. Crowell was the leading returning tackler entering the 2001 campaign, but even with these impressive numbers, it would have been difficult for anyone to forecast the level of production Crowell has turned in to this point.
What has he done to accelerate his transformation? The answer, according to Crowell, is a regimented offseason program and an emphasis on studying opponents and learning their weaknesses. When you couple that approach with his intense competitiveness, it is little wonder why Crowell has become one of the top defensive players in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“Starting in the offseason, [Virginia head] coach [Al] Groh told me that the ones that want to win the game are the ones that would be playing,” Crowell said. “I knew that it would take a big change to get to that level. I trained and did a lot of extra work. I worked on Saturdays, our days off. I ran hills and worked in the weight room to prepare myself to play every play of every game.”
Once the season began, Crowell’s determination persisted. He has continued to be a ubiquitous presence in the football offices. In addition to frequenting the film room, Crowell has picked the brains of his defensive coaches, seeking to maximize his potential by absorbing their knowledge.
“I’m constantly watching film and trying to see what the opponent is going to come at me with. That’s the only way that you’re going to be able to see: by watching film,” Crowell says. “You can’t just go out there and get a good look from the scout team.”You have to spend a lot of time in the team room, looking at all your opponents. So I’ve been doing a lot of that and sitting down with the coaches and going over things one-on-one.”Crowell’s tireless work ethic and impressive statistics have not gone unnoticed by the Virginia coaching staff. Groh has frequently talked about Crowell’s work on and off the field as providing a model for younger players. Moreover, the first-year head coach has singled out Crowell as one of a few players who exhibits an unmatched competitiveness. According to Groh, this inherent competitive nature makes for a unique player.
“[Guys like Crowell] are special on any team,” Groh says. “If this type of competitiveness were not a special quality, then everyone would have it.”
The junior linebacker and team leader recognizes he has inherited certain responsibilities along with a spot in the starting lineup. Crowell knows that along with his emergence as a defensive stopper comes the necessity to become a leader. And while he asserts that he is not the most vocal leader on the field, Crowell has tried to set an example for his teammates through his play.
“I describe myself as a leader,” Crowell says. “I’m not much of a talker, but I just try to lead by my play. I try to distinguish myself through my play.”Crowell’s renewed commitment to becoming a solid all-around defensive player and his willingness to spend the extra time necessary to ensure his improvement have been encouraged to some extent by his older brother Germane. The older Crowell has provided the same kind of leadership by example to Angelo that Angelo seeks to provide to his teammates.Germane starred as a wide receiver at Virginia from 1994-97 before taking his game to the National Football League as a second-round draft pick in 1998. Germane, who had become a fixture in the Detroit Lions’ offense before injuring his knee in Detroit’s Oct. 21 game against the Tennessee Titans, talked with Angelo prior to the 2001 season.
“He just talked to me and told me you have to raise your game to the next level,” Angelo says of his brother’s advice.
At his current rate of improvement, Angelo appears on the verge of the NFL himself. Cultivating a professional career, however, remains one of the farthest things from his mind. Instead of worrying about his future draft status, Crowell remains focused on playing well on Saturdays and completing his remarkable ascension to the top of Virginia’s defensive charts. More importantly, he is committed to earning his degree before he leaves the University of Virginia and attempts to make a name for himself on Sundays.
“I’m not even thinking about [the NFL],” Crowell says. “I’m just trying to go hard every game, make plays, and if the NFL is there, it’s there. If the NFL works out, it works out. Either way, I will definitely have a degree to depend on.”