MMA’s Crawley remains a rock in the middle for offense

By Jeff Nations

WOODSTOCK — Eric Crawley once had visions of dashing down the sidelines for a long gainer, or maybe bursting through the center of the line to charge toward the end zone.

Even as a freshman at Fishburne Military School, Crawley had hopes of making an impact as a running back.

It didn’t work out that way, which has been good news for Massanutten Military Academy’s football team. Crawley injured his Achilles’ tendon early in preseason practice at Fishburne, never playing a down for that school before transferring mid-year to MMA. By then, he’s put on some weight.

“During that off time, I ate a lot,” Crawley said. “Things got to me, I didn’t work out that much … I sort of got down. I felt like I should’ve been out there.”

By his sophomore year, Crawley fit the profile of a lineman more than a running back. He won a starting spot on MMA’s offensive line as a guard, and by the second game of that season he’d been shifted over to man center. Crawley has been there ever since, and now the three-year starter is anchoring a rebuilt offensive line as the unit’s lone holdover.

“Eric’s a guy who knows the system,” Colonels coach Chris Gilliland said. “We put in the spread no-huddle last year and he’s kind of the anchor on the line. If anybody can step up to the challenge, it’s definitely Eric to kind of mentor the rest of the guys on the offensive line.”

MMA’s offense flourished with the no-huddle, piling up yardage and points in game after game last season. Starting quarterback Kenya Ray-Abrams, a deadly triggerman as both a passer and runner, must be replaced after graduating last season. But don’t overlook the importance that Crawley played in that success. Gilliland said moving the Washington, D.C., resident one spot over on the line had a huge impact on MMA’s offense.

“The snaps were more consistent,” Gilliland said. “We were able to run some things much more effectively. I think he and Kenya had good timing last year.”

Crawley is ready to establish a new rapport with MMA’s quarterbacks this year, whether it’s Justin Elshafie, Derik Duklis or Damoni Gunter behind center. No matter who the quarterback is, Crawley knows his job remains the same.

“Whoever’s back there, I deliver the ball to them,” Crawley said. “I just do my job as best I can. I want to make sure that my quarterback and my running back are protected at all times.”

Playing the no-huddle last season was fun for Crawley, who enjoyed the opportunity to think fast snap after snap.

“It was a fast tempo,” Crawley said. “You had to know what you were doing. Line-wise, we knew our stuff. Communication was key on the line.

“It motivates you to study. You really have to learn your plays. If you don’t study, then you don’t know things. If you don’t know things, then things go bad.”

Crawley has been doing his part to make certain his teammates are well-versed in MMA’s offense this season. As a senior and one of just a handful of returning starters, it just goes with the territory.

“I feel like it’s my job to coach other people in a way that’s not negative,” Crawley said. “If something goes wrong, I just want to always encourage them.”

Crawley will do his share of coaching, but much of his leading will come through his example on the field this season. The 5-foot-8, 230-pounder is eager to help keep MMA’s offense humming this year.

“I like being on the line, I like the pressure — just the adrenaline that you have,” Crawley said. “Every time I snap the ball, I get this adrenaline that’s just, ‘I’ve got to do this. I’ve got to do it right, every single time.’ It’s always been my passion to play football.”

Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or jnations@nvdaily.com>