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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Jamison Crowder aims to finish with bang

By David Hale

Jamison Crowder is 5-foot-9, and though he has accumulated all types of impressive numbers in his career, it is that stat that seems to define him the most.

He is small. He gets it. Look around the league at bigger receivers, and he expects to fly beneath the radar. In fact, Crowder kind of likes it. He sneaks up on people, no matter how much they should have seen him coming.

"It’s nothing new to me," Crowder said. "All my life, at every level, I’ve always had to prove myself. Then people saw I could really play."

Jamison Crowder
Duke's Jamison Crowder had 1,360 receiving yards last season, second only to Clemson standout Sammy Watkins in the ACC.
Perhaps no player is more emblematic of the team he plays for than Crowder. He has made enormous strides in the past three years, but he wants more. Respect has been hard to earn, and the doubters continue to shrug off his success. He is not the biggest or flashiest receiver in the country, but he works harder and worries more about the details than almost anyone else. He is Duke in a nutshell.

Crowder has a resume worthy of being an All-American, but the name on the front of the jersey means he will always be a bit overlooked.

"It comes down to, we’re Duke," quarterback Anthony Boone said. "We had a great year, but people still tend to not believe what we’re really accomplishing over here. Which is fine. We don’t worry about that too much. But it’s one of those things where he’s a great player and the more publicity and exposure we get as a team, the more people will see how talented Jamison Crowder really is."

The doubters actually make life a little easier for Crowder. The criticism fuels him, the nitpicking forces him to focus on the little things, and the lack of respect -- well, he’s got a way of earning that pretty quickly. Last year, no one in the ACC racked up more plays of 50 yards or more than Crowder’s seven.

"It’s dangerous," said Duke cornerback Bryon Fields. "Jamison is slept on. That’s why you see him getting those 80-yard touchdowns, because guys don’t respect his speed, and before they know it, he’s by them."

If people wanted to understand how good he was, the evidence of Crowder’s prowess is everywhere.

In the past two seasons, only six other wideouts in the country have tallied more receiving yards. Crowder is the only receiver from a Power 5 conference team that has a shot at a third straight 1,000-yard season.

Crowder racked up 1,360 yards receiving last season, second only to Clemson’s Sammy Watkins -- the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft -- in the ACC. If he were to repeat those numbers again in 2014, Crowder would shatter the conference’s career mark for receiving yards, a record currently held by his former teammate Connor Vernon.

Crowder has scored 19 times in the past two seasons. No returning ACC player has scored more. He has topped 1,200 all-purpose yards in two straight seasons, a feat matched only by Miami star Duke Johnson.

Yet, Crowder knows he needs to do more if he wants to be recognized among the best players in the country.

"I want to be a perfectionist," he said. "I think I run pretty good routes, but when I see videos of NFL players and how detailed their routes are, how the timing is, that’s something I really worked on in the summer so that if I do get a chance at the next level, I’ll go in looking like a pro."

After a dominant season in 2013 as a junior, Crowder said the notion of bolting for the NFL never crossed his mind. He didn’t submit paperwork to the NFL advisory committee and he never spoke about a decision with coach David Cutcliffe. It was simply assumed he would be back because he -- and Duke -- had more work to do.

But the NFL is on Crowder’s mind. For all the stats he has accumulated in the past two seasons, there is still that matter of his height that will dog him with scouts at the next level. The only way he can fight back is by continuing to produce.

"My status as far as the league, there’s still a lot unsure because of my size," Crowder said. "You hear a lot of people telling you, 'oh you’re going to make it,' but those same people aren’t the ones making the decisions on whether I’m playing on Sundays. The only thing I can work on is me, and I’m staying hungry and continuing to work."

If Crowder repeats his 2013 campaign this season, there will be little room left for doubt. Perhaps no player in the ACC is as crucial to his team’s success as Crowder, and after two straight seasons of success, it’s going to be tough to sneak up on anyone this time around.

Last season, Duke quarterbacks targeted Crowder 174 times -- 30 more than the next closest receiver in the ACC (Watkins) and second only to Fresno State’s Devante Adams nationally. If Crowder was the centerpiece of the Blue Devils' offense a year ago, his role might actually grow this season.

Quarterback Brandon Connette transferred this spring and tailback Jela Duncan, the team’s leader in carries, is out because of academic concerns, putting a major dent in Duke’s ground game. Tight end Braxton Deaver, last season's No. 2 receiver, will miss the season with a knee injury. Add it all up, and Crowder accounts for 40 percent of the team’s returning yards from scrimmage from a year ago.

Crowder will demand attention in 2014, but Boone isn’t worried.

"He knows how to get open," the quarterback said. "He has that mentality where he doesn’t think anybody can cover him."

So far, nobody has, which comes as no surprise to the people around Crowder. He has had to work harder to gain respect, and that fits perfectly with how he approaches the game.

But the job gets bigger as his Duke career draws to a close, and that, too, fits perfectly with how Crowder likes to prepare. There will always be doubters, always be bigger challenges. That is half the fun.

"I’m always confident in my game and I feel like I’m blessed with my ability to go play on any level," Crowder said. "But there are things I want to get better at, and I want to work on those things so people can see I’m a big-time player and one of the best receivers in the country."