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Dec. 3, 2001

By Chip Rogers

“Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” This adage is used frequentlywhen one is struggling with a decision. For Cavalier football alum CaseyCrawford, it was the rationale that led him to pursue a career as aprofessional football player two months after he had resigned himself toending his football career in a Virginia uniform.

After Crawford’s senior season, he was drained from a series ofinjuries and three surgeries that he thought had taken away any chance ofhis competing at the professional level. “I had no interest in pursuingsomething about which I was not passionate,” he states. “If my heart wasn’tin it, I wouldn’t be doing myself justice and I would be making a mockeryof the process.” Crawford faced the prospect of a life without footballbecause, “I knew that God was going to lead me down a path to something Iwould enjoy.”

That path led to an internet company that a friend fromhigh school had started. To be sure, there was the sports angle that piquedCrawford’s interest. For two months he lived a football-free life as heworked with his friend TJ on the internet site. The time away from theconstant pounding of football allowed his body and his mind to heal andrest.

As Crawford healed he began to struggle with his decision. One dayas he sat with his friend in the office of the web company, TJ said, “Youwill always have the opportunity to put on a coat and a tie and sit behinda desk doing work. If you don’t take this chance, you’ll never have thisopportunity again.” That was it. Crawford picked up the phone and calledthe NFL combines, informing them of his interest to attend.

It wasn’t going to be easy. Crawford had lost 20 pounds and hadn’tplayed football in two months, while everyone else who was going to attendhad been preparing non-stop for the tryouts. But Crawford was committed totaking the chance, and he went. For someone who had once been projected asa first-round pick, not being drafted was a big difference.

It was all meant to be. At that time, Crawford was engaged toMichelle Vizzuso, a member of the USA National Field Hockey team who wasinvestigating law school options. She was already playing in a nationalsports league, the United Airlines Field Hockey Summer League. A four-timeAll-American in field hockey at Virginia, Vizzuso was an accomplishedathlete in her own right. As the two of them figured out how they weregoing to be able to live their lives together while keeping dreams ofpost-collegiate competition active, all the roads led to Tobacco Road.

First of all, the assistant field hockey coach at Wake Forest leftsuddenly that summer. Three days later, Michelle called the head hockeycoach at Wake inquiring about helping out the team and was offered theassistant’s job on the spot. She was admitted to law school at Wake Forest,and Casey was able to sign as an unrestricted free-agent with the Panthers,who were headquartered just two hours south of Winston-Salem.

“It wasn’t going to be easy,” remembers Crawford, “but it was theonly way it could have worked out. My agent told me that they already hadfour tight ends, and they had never kept four ends in the history of thefranchise.” But Crawford had made the commitment, and his hopes of making alife in the NFL and with Michelle hinged on his working it out.

“The rest is history,” says Casey, laughing. Crawford turned in avery impressive preseason-impressive enough that he convinced the Panthers’staff to keep him, along with three other tight ends, on the roster. Itturned out to be a good thing, because two of them went down with injuriesin the first couple weeks of the season, opening things up for Crawford.All of a sudden, the projected first-round pick-turned-unrestricted free-agent was starting in the NFL, just six months after making the decisionnot to pursue a career in professional football.

Crawford’s first start was in an auspicious place–the TWA Dome inSt. Louis where the Rams were celebrating a Super Bowl victory from theseason before. Crawford’s parents had circled that date at the beginning ofthe season, planning to make the trip even though they had no idea thattheir son would play, much less start. As it turns out, the Demon Deaconswere upset in the NCAA tournament, paving the way for Michelle to join herin-laws on the 50-yard line in St. Louis.

From those seats they saw Crawford catch his first pass as aprofessional and turn it into a touchdown. “It was such a great moment forme,” remembers Crawford. “To have Michelle and my parents there made itthat much better.” Crawford and the rest of the Panthers upset the Ramsthat day, and Crawford was officially a starter in the NFL. “Michelle knowssomething about starting,” says Crawford. [She holds the Virginia recordfor most career starts for the field hockey team.] “Being able to sharethis excitement with her is very special.” The two now live in Davidson,halfway between his “office” at Erickson Stadium and her “office” on thesand turf at Kentner Stadium at Wake Forest.

Michelle and Casey have known each other since their undergraduatedays in Charlottesville, and Crawford states that “meeting her was a highlight of my time at Virginia.” Crawford became a regular at the hockey games. Likewise, the support that he received from Michelle and her teammates, after an injury forced him to take an extended absence from football for the first time in his life, eased his frustration.

That time also gave him an opportunity to get more involved with student life on Grounds. As a member of the IMP society, Crawford came in contact with a broad cross section of students and it “made me appreciate my life as a Virginia student that much more,” he states. “The friends that I have made through that contact are a wonderful addition to my memories of Charlottesville.”

Crawford’s other memory from his UVa football days that stands out in his mind also features a good friend of his. Will Thompson, playing in his first game as a Cavalier at the Bowl in 1999, caught his first-andonly-pass in a Virginia uniform and took it 55 yards for a touchdown. “It was a fade from [QB David] Rivers,” recalls Crawford. “It was his first catch and he turned it into a touchdown.” Sounds strangely familiar.

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