As an early enrollee who is already on campus, Marcus Crowley has the opportunity to compete for a potentially significant role as a true freshman at Ohio State.
With the departure of Mike Weber to the NFL draft, J.K. Dobbins is the only running back on the Buckeyes’ roster with extensive playing experience. That leaves the door open for any other running back on the roster to earn regular playing time, and there are only three other scholarship running backs who will be on campus this spring: Demario McCall, Master Teague and Crowley.
McCall, a fourth-year junior who has seen some playing time as a runner, receiver and returner over the past three years, is the veteran of the group and should be in line for a bigger role in 2019 – though the Buckeyes could opt to use him as a third-down back or an H-back instead of as an every-down running back.
If not McCall, Teague would likely be next in line to be the No. 2 running back. But he played in only four games as a true freshman last year, preserving his redshirt, so he’s still going to have to prove himself to demonstrate he’s ready for a bigger role and earn his place on the depth chart.
That gives Crowley a chance, if he performs well this spring, to push his way up the depth chart quickly and make an immediate impact for the Buckeyes in 2019.
In his first semester as a Buckeye, though, Crowley says his focus right now is on learning from the older running backs and improving himself.
“J.K., Demario and Master, they're all great backs, and I'm just trying to put the work in and wait my time,” Crowley said while meeting with the media earlier this month.
As he has adjusted to life as a Buckeye, Crowley says Dobbins, McCall and Teague have all helped show him the way.
“They took me under their wing and they’re teaching me a lot,” Crowley said. “Teaching me the culture, teaching me the playbook and everything.”
While Crowley doesn’t know what his role will be as a freshman, he knows the first step to getting on the field is becoming a college-ready player. That process has already started with winter conditioning workouts and weight room work under the guidance of director of sports performance Mickey Marotti, and Crowley is trying to maximize that work to improve himself physically.
“I’ve got to get bigger, got to get stronger, because college ain’t no joke,” said Crowley, who said he arrived at Ohio State at 196 pounds but is now closer to 205 pounds. “Everybody here is big, especially if you want to play, you’ve got to get big.”
Crowley needs to be big and strong to succeed at the collegiate level, because his success at the high school level – which included running for 2,325 yards and earning Florida Gatorade Player of the Year honors in his senior season – was in large part because of his physicality and ability to break through tackles. He expects that to still be a big part of his game at Ohio State.
“I’m a physical back, and I feel like I can do it all,” Crowley said.
Crowley said he grew up watching former Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, and has tried to take after his physical running style and his vision. Asked whether he would compare himself to any other running back, though, Crowley said he wants to make his own name.
“I don't really like comparing myself to nobody else,” Crowley said. “I call myself my own man, and I do me.”
Crowley wasn’t as heralded a recruit as some of Ohio State’s other new freshmen – he was ranked as only the 370th-best prospect and 26th-best running back in the class of 2019, according to 247Sports’ composite rankings – and he wasn’t recruited by the Buckeyes until late in the process. He didn’t receive an offer from Ohio State until October, at which time he was committed to Miami.
That didn’t deter Crowley’s interest in Ohio State, though. After quickly building a relationship with Buckeyes running backs coach Tony Alford, Crowley visited Ohio State in November and committed to the Buckeyes on the same weekend.
“Coach Tony was the biggest factor in my recruitment. Coach Tony is a real coach that’s gonna be real with you, he ain’t gonna lie,” said Crowley, who is now reunited with two of his teammates from Trinity Christian Academy (Jacksonville, Florida), cornerbacks Shaun Wade and Tyreke Johnson. “When I came up here (for the visit) I realized, ‘This is it. This is the best fit for me.’ As soon as I came up here, I bonded with the team.”
Now that he is at Ohio State, the recruiting rankings and when he was offered no longer matter. To have the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of running backs like Archie Griffin, Eddie George, Ezekiel Elliott and Dobbins and become Ohio State’s next star at the position, Crowley will need to prove that he can be a complete running back.
That level is expectation is just fine with Crowley, however, because it aligns with his own.
“My expectations ever since high school were to be the best I can be, to be great,” Crowley said. “Life’s hard if you just settle for average. So my expectation is always to be the best I can be and be great.”