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CLEARWATER — When Gray Crow returned to Countryside last winter after a season in Ocala, he was immediately heralded by some — perhaps someone writing this very column — as the best quarterback in Pinellas County.
That someone was wrong.
Crow may not be the best quarterback in the county, and he may not be all that everyone expected him to be, and maybe he’s not even a bona fide Division I-A prospect.
But is there any arguing he is headed in that direction?
Crow leads Countryside in Friday’s second-round Class 5A playoff matchup with Tampa Bay Tech on Friday playing his best ball of the season.
Oh, sure, those first few games were a little rough. The spring debut was disappointing, the 2-for-11 in the season opener was scary, the 3-for-10 in the second game frightening.
This is a kid who was offered a scholarship by Notre Dame’s Charlie Weis as a sophomore, an offer that has since been revoked.
“He put a lot of pressure on himself because he knows he has the potential to be a really good quarterback,” said coach Jared Davis. “He’s his own worst critic. We just had to get him to relax, to remind him he had good players around him. It’s hard for a young guy; he wanted to do it all himself. We just had to ease that burden a little.”
They took some plays out, and put others in. They made the passing game quicker, relying on Crow’s strong arm, and worked on some simpler things to get their quarterback on track. They leaned on their big offensive line and steady rushing attack.
They didn’t ask Crow to win games, just to manage wins. And the Cougars are 11-0, so how do you like him now?
“I was just trying to handle all the pressure; I just didn’t want to mess up,” Crow said. “I was so nervous at the beginning.”
With a full season under his belt and his confidence growing with every Cougar win, the junior continues to evolve.
Last week in a first-round playoff game, he threw 15 times, and 12 of them were caught. He didn’t have a single touchdown, but he moved the offense, he completed key passes, including one beautiful deep ball to the 1 that should have been a touchdown.
He continued making believers.
“We had one play in that game, a deep passing combo with a checkdown route off it, and (Brandon) brought the blitz,” said offensive coordinator Eric Schmitz. “Immediately, he went to the checkdown and threw to the tight end for an 11-yard gain. That shows me he knows what he’s doing.”
It’s a throw that he probably doesn’t make in the spring, when his debut performance was panned, and early in the season, when the only thing that seemed to be holding back Countryside was its passing game.
“We were seeing it in practice, it just wasn’t carrying over to the games,” Davis said. “Once it carried over, that’s when you saw us explode a little it.”
In the fifth game, against Lakewood, he engineered a 38-point second half and threw for 176 yards.
Against Palm Harbor University, he was 13-of-16.
Since his bumpy start, minus a poor outing against Tarpon Springs, Crow has completed 66 percent of his passes.
“I think after the Palm Harbor game people started to shut up,” Crow said.
Slowly, but most definitely, Crow has made big strides considering he had a new coach, new receivers and his third offensive system in two years.
He never, however, used any of those things as an excuse.
Schmitz says Crow’s improvement is a result of his relentless effort. He stays after practice with his receivers, watches extra film, brings it home to watch.
“That’s a huge feather in his cap,” the offensive coordinator said.
Countryside hasn’t asked Crow to win any games yet. But that time may be coming.
“I’m ready,” he says.
Crow may not yet be everything everyone thought he would be, but is there any arguing he is headed in that direction?