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Croffie doesn't like to be called 'Rudy'

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Patrick Croffie still remembers the day he
almost got a chance to play.

Early in the 2002 season, Georgia was blowing out New Mexico
State when an assistant coach asked, "Hey, Croffie, you been in
yet?"

His heart began to race. He tried to loosen up. This was it! He
would actually be freed from the confines of the bench. He would
trot on the field to the cheers of more than 80,000 red-clad fans
at Sanford Stadium.

Alas, the coaches decided that a different player should go in
for the kickoff return that could have been Croffie's
moment in the sun.

"I know I can play," he says now. "I just never got the
opportunity to show what I can do."

In all likelihood, Croffie will have to be content with that
belief in himself. He spent four years on the scout team with nary
a second of actual playing time.

He paid his own way through school, with little hope of earning
a scholarship. He spent countless hours on the practice field,
getting knocked around by bigger, stronger teammates. He faithfully
attended who-knows-how-many meetings, studying plays others would
get to run. He did his time in the weight room, trying to catch up.

All for the love of the sport.

Croffie will be on the sideline Thursday when the 11th-ranked
Bulldogs meet Purdue (No. 13 ESPN/USA Today, No. 12 AP) in the Capital One Bowl. There, he
expects to remain one final time. No Hollywood ending for Georgia's
version of "Rudy."

"Deep down inside, I've always wanted an opportunity to play in
my last game," he said Monday after practice. "But Purdue is a
very talented team and it will probably be a close game. I don't
think I'll get to play. I don't want to get my hopes up."

This is the flip side of college football -- the anonymous
walk-on who doesn't have to fret about entering the NFL draft or
squeezing another awards banquet into a busy schedule.

During the week, Croffie spends his time trying to mimic
opposing players in practice. Then, on Saturdays, he watches others
play the games.

"Those guys are special," said Sean Jones, Georgia's star
safety. "It would burn me up to practice all week and not get to
play. Not everyone can do what they do. They sacrifice
everything."

Many scout teamers are up-and-coming players, just biding their
time while they learn the college game. The rest are guys who
aren't quite big enough, or strong enough, or fast enough.

Still, they are vital to a team's success.

"People don't realize how important a good scout team is,"
Georgia quarterback David Greene said. "They give us a good look
at what we're going to see in the game."

For Croffie, size has always been the issue. He looks more like
a kicker than a defensive back, receiver or running back -- the
positions he has played at Georgia. He's only 5-foot-7 and entered
school weighing 145 pounds. He's never tipped the scales at more
than 162.

In fact, after finishing his high school career at Athens
Academy, not far from the Georgia campus, Croffie figured his
football-playing days were over. He enrolled in 1999 as a student
and student only. No hyphen. No "athlete" attached to his name.

But a friend playing at Division I-AA Georgia Southern coaxed
Croffie into trying out for the Bulldogs in 2000. He showed up,
asked for a chance and was given a spot on the team. That was about
it.

Not that Croffie didn't put in the time. While NCAA rules limit
players to 20 hours a week during the season, let's not forget all
the offseason workouts -- a couple of hours a day, five days a week,
with just a few breaks scattered in along the way.

The final scoreboard on Croffie's career will likely read: some
2,400 hours spent practicing and preparing for a game that he never
actually played.

"I don't know why he didn't play," said his mother, Esther
Croffie, speaking by telephone from her job in Athens. "He went to
practice every day. He put all those hours in. I don't know what
the reason is. But I'm proud of him. And I think he's OK with it,
too."

Indeed, Croffie is largely satisfied with the path his life has
taken. But there are moments when he wonders why things didn't turn
out a little different. He started out as a receiver and spent one
spring as the No. 2 tailback before asking to move to defensive
back, figuring that would be his best chance to get in a game.

Now, he's not so sure.

"Just a second ago, as we were going out to practice, (starting
cornerback) Bruce Thornton told me, 'You're a good receiver. Why
didn't you stay at receiver?"' Croffie said, a tinge of dismay in
his voice.

He dismisses any comparisons to "Rudy," the movie based on the
undersized, talent-deprived walk-on who managed to get on the field
for the final two plays of a Notre Dame game.

Croffie truly believes he has just as much talent as most of the
guys who do get to play. Maybe that's what kept him going for four
years.

"It's so hard," he admitted. "You've got to spend all those
hours working, going to class, going to practice. And you're
basically doing it for free. I've got to pay for my books, pay for
my food. Just looking at it like that, it is hard."

But Croffie doesn't spent much time fretting over his situation.
He actually has a year of eligibility remaining, but won't use it.
He's close to earning his degree in family and child development.
He wants to work with kids. It's time to move on.

Besides, Croffie has already gotten to be a member of Georgia's
first Southeastern Conference championship team in 20 years. He's
already made a bunch of lifelong friends.

"At least," his mother said, "he was on the team."