Crowder's speed puts pressure on James Wood foes

By WALT MOODY The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — James Wood coach Ryan Morgan says flatly that “speed kills” in football.
willThat said, the Colonels possess one of the most dangerous weapons in the Northwestern District.
Running back William Crowder just may be the fastest player in the area and maybe the state. As a sophomore this past spring, Crowder ran a blazing 11.02 seconds in the 100 meters and went on to an all-state performance by placing eighth in the event at the Class 4 state meet.
Morgan, in his second-season at the helm of the Colonels after serving as an assistant coach, has been on both sides of facing the kind of speed that Crowder possesses.
“It’s just something you can [try] to prepare for it, but he’s a difference maker,” Morgan said.
Crowder says he figured out early on that he was pretty fast.
“I started running in the fifth grade and after that I’ve always had speed,” said the soft-spoken junior. “That’s why I run track.”
It’s also what attracted him to football and it did not take long for Crowder to separate himself after starting to play in eighth grade.
The next season, then James Wood coach Mark McHale sought to bring Crowder up to the varsity. In one half of the JV opener that season, Crowder had a kickoff return, a run and a pass reception that went for touchdowns.
While Crowder’s mother Nita Breighner had some reservations about her son playing on the varsity and getting hurt, Crowder did not.
“I had talked to my mom and she was concerned for me playing varsity football as a freshman,” Crowder recalled. “Coach McHale called her that night and they talked. She was like ‘OK.’ I was like no matter what, if I had the opportunity to play varsity I was going to take that opportunity.”
Morgan who was coaching that JV squad believes that was a good choice that Crowder has benefited from for multiple seasons.
“I don’t think [JV] would have been a great place for him to mature,” Morgan said. “When he got to varsity, they put together a certain package of plays for him as a freshman. He returned a kickoff in the opening game against Heritage for a touchdown. It gave him some confidence going into last year where as he had been just trying out for the first time as a sophomore, he probably would have been wondering, ‘How fast are these guys? How hard are they going to hit?’ I think it helped the game slow down for him last year.”
And while he was nicked up some last season, Crowder’s impact was felt on the field. He led the Colonels with 346 yards rushing on 48 carries (a 7.2 average) and five touchdowns.
He was also very dangerous on kickoff returns. With the Colonels employing a reverse to still get him the ball when teams kicked away from him, Crowder took three back for touchdowns.
“It’s just trusting all my other guys on the whole kickoff return team, just trusting they are going to get the blocks,” Crowder said of his success on returns. “And then when I see that daylight, I know that it’s good and I’m going to hit it.”
That kind of speed in the open field makes the opposition nervous. And when Crowder was in the backfield last fall, teams took notice.
“You can tell when he is not in the game or not available for a game … that the defense is concentrating on him,” Morgan said. “When he goes in motion or when he’s on one side of the field, teams have to see that. He’s the fastest player who has been at James Wood during my time here. Once he gets out in the open field, not many teams — if any teams — have a chance to catch him, so they have to know where he is.”
And Crowder is only getting faster and stronger.
Running throughout the spring is bearing fruit.
“Track has helped me a lot,” Crowder said. “I’ve gotten way faster. My freshman year I was running like 11.4 and now I’m down to 11.2s and 11.1s.”
And his time in the weight room is paying off, too.
You wouldn’t know it from his 5-foot-10, 190-pound frame, but Crowder is one of the strongest players on the Colonels, proving it before practice opened.
“He works hard in the weight room and he’s physically stronger than he had been,” Morgan said. “He deadlifted 480 pounds which is the most on the team. … His body is kind of filling out a little bit. He’s not adding a lot of weight, but he’s getting stronger. I think when he’s out there running the ball, he’s a little more likely to pound it inside. When he was a freshman and sophomore, he was strong for his age but not necessarily when compared to everybody else. We’ve got some big guys who can’t deadlift 480 pounds, so he’s getting up there.”
And Crowder knows that strength will help him between the tackles where his speed doesn’t have as significant an impact.
“I’ve gotten way aggressive [instead of] not waiting and bouncing everything outside,” Crowder said. “I can’t bounce everything outside. It might not be there right away, but when it comes you have got to go.”
And his teammates are confident Crowder will make an impact.
Offensive lineman Luke Roy compares Crowder to a previous standout in the Colonels backfield.
“It’s very nice knowing that you have that guy there all of the time,” Roy said. “I played with Tyler Bishop and he was phenomenal, too. You give him the ball and he’s going to work it and make it happen. The same thing with Will — he’s going to make it happen when you need it to happen.”
And Crowder is not the only option for Morgan. Jackson Turner, Sam Adkins and Luke Esparza also had carries last season as sophomores.
“He’s not the only good athlete we have,” Morgan said. “He’s one of the fastest — if not the fastest — guys in the area so he gets a lot of attention. There were times last year where we were playing with four sophomores in the backfield. … They’re maturing and getting faster and stronger, too.”
With multiple weapons, Morgan is hoping to possible change some history.
“Usually, James Wood’s offense for the most part over the years has been kind of a plodding, dink-and dunk with some occasional big plays,” he said. “It’s a little bit different for us with teams having to respect our speed.”
Crowder certainly has big goals for the fall.
“I expect to have a lot carries,” he said. “I’m trying to set a goal of at least having 100 yards a game. I want to have a lot of helmet stickers, pancake blocks, interceptions, kick returns, punt returns and help my team to the best of my ability. My goal is to make it to the playoffs and keep going.”
Crowder also will see time playing on defense. He’s moving to free safety after having previously played at outside linebacker and defensive back.
“He has the physical skill to play different positions and he has got the makeup speed that even if he takes a wrong step he can catch up to people,” Morgan said.
“He can definitely help us speed-wise now that he’s at free safety,” said Roy, who also plays defensive end. “He can definitely help back there getting back, getting up and making hits. He’s an all-around threatening guy.”
Crowder also has high hopes of playing football in college. According to Morgan, college teams are showing interest.
“It would be amazing to show people that you may not live in the biggest city, but you can [succeed],” Crowder said. “You’ve just got to go out there and put your heart in it. It would be so amazing to play at any college. It doesn’t matter if it’s Division I or junior college. Anywhere I have the opportunity to go I’m going to take.”
Crowder says he loves playing the game with his “brothers” and it’s very obvious that he has endeared himself to his teammates and others.
“He’s kind of a goofy guy, but you’ve got to love him, though,” Roy said with a chuckle. “He always hard working. He’s going to put in the work and every time you ask him to do something, he’s going to do it for sure.
“He’s a confident kid, but he’s very humble,” added Morgan. “He doesn’t talk about himself. He’s very thankful to his teammates and his teammates look out for him. A lot of people at school look out for him because he’s such a nice kid and tries to do his best. Everybody is rooting for him.”