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His father’s son

Ken Fowler | Saturday, September 16, 2006

-For Maurice Crum, Jr., it didn’t matter that he had 10 solo tackles, four assists and a forced fumble that was returned for a touchdown in Notre Dame’s win over Penn State last Saturday. The Irish middle linebacker already knew exactly what his dad would say when the two talked later that day.

“Every game, I never hear anything good from him,” Crum Jr. said. “He said I did okay. He said I was around the ball. But he pointed out everything I did wrong.”

The younger Crum wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I think it can only help me and make my game better,” he said. “I’ve got my teammates, my coaches, my father, and I’m hard on myself, so I think that’s the only way I can continue to elevate my game.”

Maurice Crum, Sr. has the credentials to back his words. The elder Crum was an All-American linebacker for Miami in 1990 and led the Hurricanes in tackles from 1988-90.

“He’s comfortable telling me things because he played linebacker,” the junior said. “So he tells me every little thing that could make me better.”

For Notre Dame, Crum, Jr.’s acceptance of his father’s criticism is a blessing.

The 6-foot, 225-pound junior started at the “Apache” linebacker position (one of the two outside linebackers) as a sophomore after red-shirting as a freshman. After back surgery in the offseason, Irish coach Charlie Weis had Crum study all three linebacker positions while the surgery kept him out of spring workouts.

“Even though he wasn’t physically repping, it gave him an opportunity to mentally rep all three positions,” Weis said. “He really studied all three positions. He was going to be ready to put in wherever we needed.”

“Whatever the team needs”

Before fall camp began, Weis told Crum he would be moving to middle linebacker to replace the void left after fifth-year senior and middle linebacker Corey Mays graduated – a challenge Crum embraced.

“I’m a guy who prides myself on whatever the team needs me to do, I do for the team,” he said.

Crum’s willingness to help the Irish hasn’t been lost on Notre Dame defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

“It’s fortunate for us we’re around guys like that who are playmakers and producers and take their jobs serious and their roles very seriously,” Minter said. “[Crum has] really stepped up and accepted the challenged we issued to him back in the spring and into the summer about really … asserting yourself and taking control of the huddle.”

That was one of the biggest hills for Crum to climb in his transition to middle linebacker. The once-quiet Crum now has the responsibility of relaying every defensive play from the sideline to his 10 teammates in the huddle.

“Your middle linebacker has got to be the guy that runs your defense,” Weis said.

Once again, Crum’s steadfast desire to do what is best for the team pushed him to succeed.

“My biggest thing is doing whatever the team needs me to do to win,” he said. “If that’s what it takes – me being vocal – that’s what I’ll do.”

Irish safety and defensive captain Tom Zbikowski gave Crum high praise.

“[Crum is] making all the calls in the huddle, and he has yet to mess any calls up,” he said. “It sounds like a small part, but in the heat of battle in the third and fourth quarter to make sure everyone is getting the call every single play, it’s a lot harder than it sounds.”

It wasn’t easy for Crum.

“From day one, I had to grow up quick,” he said. “From the start of [fall] camp, I had to make the calls. The first day, I’d say, was pretty tough.”

But Crum said having experienced leaders like Zbikowski and converted weak-side linebacker and special teams captain Travis Thomas on the field eased the move.

“It’s not all the weight on my shoulders,” Crum said. “We have a veteran defense, and everyone knows their job. My job is to just get it out there, and from there, everyone knows where to go.”

“Our best player”

While Crum downplays the importance of his role in the defense, Weis only speaks higher of him – of both his physical play and his mental awareness.

“To be honest with you, of all three of the starters last year – with Brandon [Hoyte] and Corey and Maurice – the guy who was the most fundamentally sound was Maurice,” Weis said. “And I think that we have had minimal communication errors in our first two games, so obviously he’s doing something right.”

Crum said he puts a premium on leading the unit like fifth-year seniors Hoyte and Mays did in 2005.

“I watched them every day in practice get everybody started; when everybody was down get everybody up,” Crum said. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned from them and applied it to my game this year.”

But Crum brings a better physical aspect to linebacker for Notre Dame than either Hoyte or Mays did.

“Just watching him last year for his first season, you know there’s a great deal of talent that he has,” Zbikowski said. “Week in and week out, he makes my job a lot easier, just coming in and making some clean-up tackles and [trying] to get some position while he’s making most of the plays.”

Weis said there were some initial questions about Crum’s physique when taking on fullbacks in a game when stopping the run is so important.

“You go ahead and put him in the middle, and everybody says, ‘Well, he’s only 225 pounds.’ But 14 tackles later … he’s still 225 pounds. The thing is, he’s got a knack for making plays.”

Crum said he knew going into the transition that offensive linemen are always looking to get a solid hit on the middle linebacker and that would be part of the challenge of converting positions.

“Being in the middle, everybody knows where you are,” Crum said. “So you’ve got to step up.”

After Crum’s performance against Penn State, Weis said Crum proved he had the ability to play his new position – and play it well.

“Could he be suited well at [outside linebacker]? Absolutely,” Weis said. “But we like the fact that our best player is running the defense. So, therefore, for us at this time, that’s the best place for him.”

Crum said much of the credit for his strong fundamentals and technique trace back to his childhood, growing up with a father who instilled a library of football knowledge in him.

“That’s just something that comes from playing football for a long time, again coming from my father, teaching me fundamentals and techniques from day one,” he said. “Since I started playing, I’ve always been a linebacker.

While the elder Crum never coached his teams, his son said, he sometimes “helped out” with the squads.

That gave the younger Crum a great advantage in football but was also difficult for a kid growing up in south-central Florida.

“Growing up was kind of tough because I was always in the shadows [of my father],” Crum Jr. said. “But now I’m growing into my own.”