cBy MICHAEL S. ADAMS

H-P Sports Writer



You cannot talk about the 2005 Westwood Panther football season without mentioning the name Gralyn Crawford.

To start the season, the sophomore was just one snap away from being named the starting quarterback for the junior varsity team.

Five months later, Crawford has been named the Dogwood Circle Offensive Player of the Year.

“You kind of wonder about a sophomore when you start the season,” Westwood head coach Shane Jones said. “With his size we didn’t know if he was going to be able to take the pounding a quarterback is going to take on a Friday night, but Gralyn did an exceptional job for us as a sophomore.”

Westwood fans had to wait until the early hours of Aug. 28 to get their first glance of Crawford.

He did not disappoint the Panther faithful who waited out the storm that caused the kickoff of Westwood’s season opener against Bullard to be delayed until 10:54 p.m.

Crawford then put on a 237-yard performance and scored a 38-yard go-ahead touchdown with 1:02 left in the game to give Westwood a 33-26 victory over Bullard in Gladewater.

“When I am back there I look to score or make a play,” Crawford said. “The last thing I am wanting to do is get tackled.”

Crawford started the season sharing snaps with junior Terris Nichols. He missed half of the Van game Sept. 2 after being injured on the Panthers’ first possession and then sat out the Kemp game Sept. 16 with an infection on his foot.

Aside from playing just eight games, Crawford finished with 1,242 passing yards and 572 rushing yards. He threw for 11 touchdowns and had six interceptions on 145 passing attempts. His quarterback rating was a remarkable 136.3 on the season. He also rushed for 10 touchdowns.

“He is a tremendous runner with the football,” Jones said. “He is a great athlete and you can never count him out.”

Jones said it would have been interesting to see what Crawford could have done if he had been the starting quarterback for all 10 games.

“That’s a situation where you start to wonder what would have happened if he played in all 10 games as the starting quarterback,” Jones said. “He is a gamer and will make something happen when it looks like he can’t.”

Crawford really did not come into the role of a pure passer until late into the season.

After a Crockett game that saw Nichols throw five interceptions, Crawford got the start at quarterback the following week at Rusk.

Nichols played just one series at Rusk, but on his first snap from center he threw the ball into the hands of a Rusk defender.

“When Terris threw that interception we didn’t think he had the confidence in himself to do the job,” Jones said. “Terris is a natural receiver and is a true team player, but we felt like the kids played harder with Gralyn at quarterback.”

That was when Crawford would develop into the dual-threat quarterback. He finished the Rusk game with 181 passing yards.

“I was kind of surprised when coach Jones told me I was going to be the starter,” Crawford said. “Everyone picked on me in practice because of my size, but come game time they knew I would play hard.”

In the final four games of the season, Crawford completed 46-of-92 passes for 955 yards and had 10 touchdowns and four interceptions.

In the final two games against Palestine and Diboll, Crawford threw for what would be a season-high 262 yards against Palestine, but topped it with 413 passing yards one week later to surpass the 1,000 yard passing mark for the season.

“I think he gained a lot of confidence during the Palestine game,” Jones said. “He took a beating, but stayed in the game and played hard and did some great things.

“He is dangerous back there and could run the ball or throw the ball to make a big play. There were a lot of plays where he would scramble around and pick up 10 or 15 hard yards.”

In his 413-yard passing performance against Diboll, Crawford came into his own and led the Panthers back from a 25-6 deficit at halftime after throwing three interceptions in the first half.

Crawford found Nichols for a 32-yard touchdown, then found George Carter on the next series for another 32-yard touchdown and on the third consecutive series found Robert Oberlander for a 13-yard touchdown to give Westwood a 27-26 advantage in the third quarter.

“Gralyn stays pretty level headed,” Jones said. “He is a pretty smart player and he will go out and make a huge play to fire up his team.”

Fans, as well as Jones, now wonder what the future holds for Crawford and the Panthers in 2006.

“Gralyn’s ability will make you a good coach,” Jones said. “It’s going to be exciting next year with him back and the several other players we get back.

“I bet you can expect big things out of him next year.”

————

Michael S. Adams may be contacted via e-mail at sports2@palestineherald.com