Eric Crouch, former Nebraska quarterback, will be officially inducted during the 63rd NFF Annual Awards Dinner on Dec. 7.
For an option quarterback in the 1990s, no better stage existed than the Nebraska Cornhuskers, and Eric Crouch wanted nothing more than to play the position in college. Notre Dame and Ohio State aggressively recruited Crouch, but the Buckeyes and Irish did not foresee the future Heisman Trophy winner as a signal caller.
“I'm a running quarterback and Nebraska had the option game, which was really, really unique,” said Crouch. “My high school coach Fred Petito, who is like the option mastermind, had been coaching and running the same option-based system for a very long time. And, there was a tradition going to Millard North High School [in Omaha] and coming out of there with a college scholarship.”
Crouch lived and breathed high school football. His work ethic and talent caught the attention of the Nebraska coaches, including head coach and future Hall of Fame inductee Tom Osborne, running backs coach Frank Solich, who would become the head coach for Crouch’s redshirt freshman season, and quarterback coach Turner Gill.
“Eric was a tremendous option guy, and he fit the scheme we wanted to run,” said Gill. “He had the speed. He had the toughness. I think the biggest thing was he could get to top speed in probably less than five yards. I’ll use the term, burst. You see it on video. He would just burst, putting that foot down and get the first five-to-ten yards with great acceleration.”
Crouch would finish his career as only the third quarterback in NCAA history to rush for 3,000 yards and pass for 4,000 yards, but the 2001 First Team All-American would face plenty of adversity. An ankle injury forced Crouch to redshirt his first season in Lincoln, and he had a tough competition to land the starting job his sophomore season, almost leaving the team after being switched to wide receiver.
“I was in a big battle and really that's how it should be,” said Crouch. “Nothing in life should be taken for granted. You got to earn things. I clawed and scratched and dug my way into a starting position by hard work. And that's the way I look at it.
“I got an opportunity to get in at quarterback my sophomore year. And I never looked back. At that point, it wasn't about playing quarterback. It wasn't about playing receiver. It was just about putting on that jersey and helmet and going out there. And when I left all the hard feelings behind, and I was able to turn the page, that's kind of when things started to happen for me.”
His sophomore season, the Cornhuskers finished 12-1, avenging a regular season loss against Texas in the Big 12 Championship, which was followed by a win against Tennessee in the Fiesta Bowl and a final No. 3 ranking.
“We had a tough loss against Texas in Austin, but we were able to get the game back in the Big 12 Championship,” Crouch said, reflecting on the 1999 season that saw him named the Big 12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. “I had a fourth and one touchdown run. That was a really, really good play for me because it really sealed our victory.”
Nebraska produced a 10-2 season in 2000 with Crouch under center, capped by a 66-17 victory over Northwestern in the Alamo Bowl.
Crouch dazzled throughout his senior season, setting numerous school and NCAA records, and despite a Thanksgiving Day loss to Colorado, the Cornhuskers earned an appearance in the BCS National Championship Game at the Rose Bowl. The team ended the season at 11-2 and Crouch with a 35-7 record as the starting quarterback.
“There's no question Eric deserves [to be in the Hall of Fame],” said Gill. “He's one of the fiercest, toughest players that has ever played the game at his size. He carried the ball 25 times a game or so, and he didn't miss a practice. He was always there for every game. Taking all the hits that he did, and he was still so fast. He carried the whole football team, technically, to get us to the Rose Bowl.”
- Named a 2001 First Team All-American as both a quarterback and all-purpose player
- Claimed the Heisman Trophy, Walter Camp Player of the Year and Davey O’Brien Award in 2001.
- Remains atop the Nebraska charts for rushing yards by a quarterback (3,434), total touchdowns (88) and career (59) and single-season (20 in 2000) rushing touchdowns by a quarterback.
- Played for Coach Frank Solich.
- Becomes the 19th Husker player to be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.