The uproar over the 2016 Metro League Offensive Football Player of the Year last fall reached a decibel level seldom seen around the Beaverton area in recent years.
In one corner stood Jesuit junior running back Trey Lowe, the precocious speedster who piled up an obscene amount of yards and touchdowns in his first year at tailback.
In the other stood an equally dangerous, lethal weapon in Beaverton senior quarterback Carson Crawford, whose dual-threat capabilities and leadership qualities were a cut above in helping the Beavers reach the Class 6A quarterfinals.
Ultimately the Metro coaches decided on Crawford. Take him off the field, it could be argued, and Beaverton falls to the middle of the Metro meat grinder. Tangibly, Crawford could take a game over with his talent. Intangibly, he was the captain his teammates wanted to follow into battle.
But on various social media networks, comment sections and living rooms across Beaverton, an open debate broke out over who the true MVP belonged to. It was a rather awkward period of time just before the playoffs, prominent adults and faceless Twitter trolls coming at teenagers with real disdain.
Some Beaverton High students looked to Crawford for a response, as if a personal statement could either smooth over the so-called storm of attention.
Only thing is, Crawford could not have cared less.
That attitude is part of what the 2017 Beaverton Valley Times Male Athlete of the Year award winner is all about.
The all-league accolades, the highly decorated résumé don't carry the same significance with Crawford as they might with some athletes. In Crawford's mind, all the individual glory paled in comparison to what the team accomplished — nearly toppling Jesuit and taking second place in Metro with a group of seniors who became like flesh and blood. Given the chance, the Metro OPOY would've gladly traded his award in for another week of playoff action — one more win to live another round and take a shot at eventual 6A state champ West Linn.
"I would rather have made the semifinals than win that award any day," Crawford said. "I'm very humbled that the coaches picked me because we all know Trey is a great athlete. It's a huge honor, but I would be the same person without it. An award doesn't define someone and that's what a lot of people get mixed up on. An individual award doesn't show how much you gave to the team.
"I was lucky because people didn't understand how good my team was," Crawford continued. "People didn't understand how good Lucas (Radostitz) was or how good Kenny (Ervin) was or Mataio (Talalemotu) or Joe (Hollowell) was. I get a lot of the credit, but you have to look at everyone else. My (offensive) line worked their butts off every single day. Guys like Jackson (Platt), Vinny (Niosi) and Garrett (Mott). It wasn't just me, it was everybody. Everyone won that award. It didn't reflect on me, it reflected on the whole team because they had to do great things for me to get it. It was an accomplishment for us."
Though his solo skills were unquestionable, Crawford was more mindful of team success. Ask Crawford about his own exploits and he'll immediately steer the conversation back toward his teammates and their abilities. Inquire about this memorable individual play or that spectacular moment and Crawford will laud his coaches and they're ability to put him in the right position. Crawford says in all three sports he played — football, basketball and track and field — the people around him insulated his strengths so that he can be his personal best for the squad.
"I truly believe he lives for his team," Beaverton football/track and field coach Bob Boyer said. "He's not a 'Look at me' guy. His prime directive is winning and raising the level of guys around him to win. There are some kids who say they're about the team, but really they want the attention, the touches, the numbers. I don't think that's Carson's motivation at all."
In an age of specialization, Crawford was a rare breed in that he not only played three sports, he excelled. On the basketball court, the 5-foot-10 shooting guard was an indispensable role player who mirrored the opponent's best player and made sure Beaverton's stars got the ball in position to score en route to the 6A semifinals at the Chiles Center. In track, Crawford was the second leg on what became a 6A state championship 4x100 relay team. And as the triggerman to Beaverton's high-powered offense on the field, Crawford could incite an explosion of points and yards with his vast array of weapons around him.
"He's a stud, the type of kid who wins in anything he does," Beaverton boys basketball coach Andrew Vancil said. "He's a very self-confident kid who believes in himself. And he's the type of kids who likes challenges. He didn't want to specialize because he's an athlete and whatever sport is in season that's what he wanted to do. He just loves to compete and I think if he doesn't get competition in the off-season, he doesn't really feel like himself."
Boyer said because Crawford endured trying circumstances in other athletic arenas, on the court, the track, he was geared up for braving the high-stakes games with a lot riding on the line and doing whatever was required of him to lead his teams into the fray, head-first on the football field and vice versa. Crawford didn't specialize in one sport, so much as he diversified into three and therefore learned how to perform under the gun.
"If you're the quarterback, if you're the point guard, there's a lot of pressure on you in a lot of different ways that you have to learn how to handle," Boyer said. "Guys that only do one sport don't learn how to handle it that much. But for Carson, it was natural for him. He's a better athlete. He's a better competitor because he's used to being in that position in every sport. Those multiple sport athletes are the kids I want on the field. If you go out and play a game with 'Beaverton' across your chest and win you or lose in three different sports, you'll go to school the next day and everybody knows it. That's pressure. I want the kids who are used to the competition when competition matters, those are the kids I want to build by team around."
Manning the game's most important position, Crawford was a magician. His game could best be described as sandlot, all the way through, the kind of backyard football that drove opponents bananas. In the pocket, Crawford could zing throws through small windows or deftly disperse the pigskin. His natural grasp of offensive coordinator Jimmy Joyce's spread, four-wide receiver shotgun-heavy scheme allowed Crawford to cut teams up with his right arm. Where the cagey signal caller shined brightest, though, might have been with his feet, when times were most harrowing. The direr the situation, the longer the odds, the Houdini-like playmaker would find ways to make something out of nothing. Staring at a two-touchdown deficit? Give Crawford the ball and let him freelance on the fly like he did in helping Beaverton overcome a 14-point hole against Century to pull off a heroic fourth quarter comeback.
Third-and-seven and in desperate need of a first down to keep salting away the clock in the fourth quarter? Put the football in Crawford's hands and he would create with his quick feet, freaky sudden start-and-stop agility and unappreciated acceleration in the open field, as he did in a huge home win over Westview in the driving rain.
"They talk about how (Michael) Jordan always wanted the ball at the end of the game to take the last shot, well, that's Carson," Boyer said. "He wants that pressure. He's played in so many different sports at such a high level competitively that they're ready to handle that kind of pressure and so you give it to him. Carson is very comfortable in that role. He wants to be that guy in that leadership position."
"Leadership" is possibly the word most associated with Crawford, the term that correlated to each sport, but particularly football. Crawford wasn't a carnival barker. His speeches weren't some pre-rehearsed monologue he'd seen in a movie. But when he raised his voice, teammates listened. He'd pat a teammate on the back or pull him aside instead of calling him out in front of everybody in the locker room. When the defense was out on the field, Crawford would roam the sidelines, clapping his hands, yelling out encouragement, doing everything he could to boost his comrades. On the field, he was Beaverton's catalyst. Crawford helped engineer four come-from-behind victories during his senior season. Yet, what separated Crawford was his rare capacity to marry next level skills with a diplomatic command that made his teammates want to get beside him in the fox hole.
"The players who are really special are the ones who are talented and will say 'Follow me'," Boyer said. "As long as he was on the field we felt we had a chance to win and not just because he's a great athlete, but because he's going to will himself and the rest of the team that direction. His emotional status he has on the field, the way he handles himself, the confidence he exudes in every sport takes that team to the next level. There are a lot of guys who are great athletes and there are guys who can be great leaders, but it's hard for kids to be both. Carson's done it for years."
Boyer played against Carson's dad, Chris, in high school and with the southpaw legend at Portland State University in the mid-1980s. He said the Crawfords have the same sort of charismatic captaincy qualities that far outweighed their somatic measurables.
"If you play against him, you don't like the guy because of the plays he makes," Boyer said. "You call him cocky, you call him arrogant. Then when you play with the guy you realize it's not a cockiness or arrogance, but it's a confidence of, 'I can do what I do and I'm going to no matter what happens.'"
Two big games
Crawford's innate ability to keep plays alive with his legs and extend them with his maddening athletic ability were utter entertainment. As a pure passer, Crawford fit the bill. As a dual-threat quarterback, Crawford was unrivaled. He drove Jesuit's lauded defense — laden with Division One prospects — looney with mad dashes out of the pocket, joy-stick-like agility dodging defenders inside tight quarters and overall altering what turned out to be a shootout with the No. 1 team in the state. Beaverton, after getting beat by a combined 170-14 in two games against Jesuit in 2015, battled long into the fourth quarter against the '16 Crusaders, coming within a touchdown of the four-time Metro champs in the second half before falling 49-34.
"We were defeated, but we knew we had accomplished something," Crawford said. "I remember hearing stories about Jesuit parents getting so riled up in the stands and getting so mad. I loved that about our team, with kids who had been playing together for so long, could stir up that much, but still not win. That's when I knew our team was special. Even though we lost, we found out a lot about our team and how hard-nosed we were. Everyone bought in after that."
The Jesuit game got the public's attention and put the state on notice that Beaverton was coming. Yet, the contest that sticks out in Boyer's mind most was two weeks later versus Sunset. In need of a win to preserve home-field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs, Crawford flipped a quarterback-option pitch to Albright and absorbed a direct hit to his right collarbone, which damaged the AC joint in his throwing shoulder. It was just the second series of the game, yet Crawford was rendered powerless, unable to wind up and throw or even run because of fear of further injury. But Crawford remained in the game, knowing his team needed him, knowing if he could hide how hurt he was, at the very least Sunset would have to account for his whereabouts. The game ground to a halt, but Lewis' fourth quarter field goal after more than 40 minutes of sparring sealed a 10-7 win over Sunset. Crawford was basically a decoy for three quarters, but his mere presence on the field breathed belief into the playoff-bound Beavers.
"Our team knew he was hurt, but they wanted him out there," Boyer said. "I think that speaks to what kind of teammate he is, how much his teammates believed in him and how hard they wanted to play for each other. That game spoke about toughness, leadership and willing your team to win a game. He made a lot of miraculous plays this year, but that game summed up who he is."
Crawford's basketball season almost didn't get off the ground.
Though Crawford played through the shoulder injury for the duration of the football postseason, doctors worried the to-be collegiate wide receiver might have torn the AC joint, resulting in a subsequent surgery. Yet, Crawford and his family decided to rest the appendage for two weeks to see if the shoulder could heal enough to let him hit the hardwood. The gamble paid off as Crawford came back three games into the preseason and slid into his established role as Beaverton's starting two-guard tasked with heading Vancil's defense while supplying consistent outside shooting and a veteran presence on the floor.
Upon his return, Beaverton, a team with dexterity and experience at every position, took on a new dimension, specifically in practice. Not one to cower away from any sort of confrontation on the court, Crawford carried a kind of ruggedness that the Beavers needed.
"He's an absolute warrior and one of the most intense kids I've ever had in practice," Vancil said. "He's not going to back down from anybody. He's just a natural-born leader. Once he was cleared to play again it just boosted the confidence for all of our kids. The kids believed in him. They trusted him. He's kind of an alpha male and a lot of fun to coach."
Vancil asked each of his players to be a star in their role, whether it was Cole Johanson distributing, Hunter Sweet scoring, Beau Sheeran handling the boards or Jamie Sweatman making all the hustle plays. Crawford was Beaverton's best on-ball defender, a tenacious bulldog who could take an opposing guard out of the game with his pestering, physical defensive methods. And midway through the year, Vancil switched Johanson to shooting guard and Crawford to point guard in hopes of speeding up Beaverton's pace of play. Whatever Vancil asked, Crawford was up for.
"Honestly, I'm not that great at basketball," Crawford said with a smile. "But basketball was bigger than me. I wanted to contribute to the team and (Vancil) understood that. He knew I didn't want to score 20 points a game. I wanted to go out there and guard the best player and have (Vancil) trust me all game long. I wasn't going to dunk on somebody or shoot 20 three's in a game. I just did what I was good at. Knowing yourself and staying true to that is important."
From Central Catholic's Amari Hale to Clackamas' Elijah Gonzales to Westview's Said Ali to Jefferson's Geno West to West Linn's Braden Olsen, Crawford's forthright physicality ensured each guard was in for "a long night," according to Vancil.
Beaverton enjoyed another banner year on the court, winning the Metro League for the second straight season and making the 6A semifinals against eventual state champion Jefferson after ripping apart Southridge in the second round of the playoffs.
"Beating your rival by 30 points to get to the Chiles Center is something you can't even write a script," Crawford said. "You wouldn't believe it. It felt like a dream, almost. It was crazy to be in that environment and know right off the bat we were going to the Chiles Center. We wanted to beat them by 40, 50 points. But that just shows how that season unfolded and how we left our mark on Beaverton High School."
TRACK AND FIELD
The state championship that Crawford so coveted in football and basketball ultimately eluded him. But it came to fruition as part of a foursome of a fearless, fast 4x100 runners with a number of familiar names.
Crawford, Radostitz, Talalemotu and Albright — all three-year lettermen and all-Metro talents on the football team — combined their abilities to form a cohesive, turbo-charged short relay that vanquished Jesuit at the 6A state championship meet to take home the gold.
Boyer said Crawford's selflessness and desire for team success was possibly never more apparent than in the 4x100 relay. Albright was the headliner who doubled as the hammer anchor leg, capable of erasing any deficit down the home stretch. Talalemotu (leadoff) and Radostitz (third leg) improved greatly from their junior seasons. Crawford was the fourth-fastest member on the squad at times. But his split or stature within the quartet's hierarchy didn't make a difference. Winning a state title did. And against Jesuit in the 4x100, the Beavers ran a clean race and got the baton to Albright, who ran down Crusader junior Alex Wan over the last 100 meters for the win.
"We were hungry to get that state championship," Crawford said. "And we knew with (Albright) running a 10.5 (100 dash), if we just gave him some space, we were going to win. You don't want (Albright) chasing after you. Not many people can say they won a state championship and I'm just so happy I did it with all those guys. It's something that can't be broken."
As four football players who had played together since youth, each sprinter was fully secure in stirring each other's competitive juices in a fraternal, collective way.
"Man, they pushed each other in practice," Boyer said. "It was 'I want to beat you, you're trying to beat me' even in our 100 (meter) repeats. That competitiveness and that expectation of 'I'm going to work for you, you're going to work for me, let's go get this done' made them unique. They were talking about state championship before I could even think about it. It was a really cool group of kids. Those (four runners) and the football team committed to each other and loved each other."
Crawford fit in immediately with his competitive mindset and willingness to work — both of which were crafted on the gridiron.
"I don't think we would've won if we all just ran track and didn't play football," Crawford said. "I don't think Anthony would've had the determination to chase down (Wan) and get that win if wasn't for football. Each sport teaches you different things
and football teaches you to never give up. We knew nobody was better than us and even if we got down, we still trusted each other. We had that dog mentality."
Next big challenge
Crawford took off for the University of California Davis on June 23. After shifting from wide receiver to quarterback this season, Crawford will move back to pass catcher for the Aggies where he'll most likely man the slot for head coach Dan Hawkins. For the first time in his athletic life, Crawford will be confined to a sole activity sans an inevitable intramural basketball game or slow pitch softball contest here and there. Crawford is part of the Beaverton-area mythos, just like his dad — a sportsman appreciated by the Metro coaches who applaud him, but are too happy to see him go. In his wake, Crawford leaves behind an indestructible personal legacy, yet in true form preferred to turn the spotlight back to his hometown, the one that helped raise him, and the teams that gave him memories that'll stick in his mind forever.
"Beaverton is more than a school," Crawford said. "It's a fan base, it's a family, it's a community that rises up around the players. We all felt like we were a part of something more than just a football team or basketball team or a track team. Beaverton was the perfect place for me. Playing youth sports, coming to football games on Friday nights as a little kid, looking up to the high school players, there was no question this is where I wanted to be. I played for them, I didn't play for myself. I might not have the biggest or fastest, but I gave my all to my team and relied on my team to give the same thing back to me. I trusted them and they trusted me."