CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Quavaris Crouch walks through a sea of his teammates inside the muggy weight room at Harding University School cracking jokes and giving fist-pounds.
The infamous North Carolina humidity has pushed the heat index past 89 degrees, which has forced the Rams to stay indoors for practice per NCHSAA rules and, even the massive industrial fan’s roar can’t drown out the effect of Crouch’s punchlines.
“You guys need to shower,” Crouch says with a laugh. “I guess that means you’re working hard though. You guys smell like you’re working hard. That’s good, that’s good.”
He makes his way into the frigid classroom adjacent to today’s makeshift practice field, closes the door and plops down on top of the desk wearing a grin showcasing his braces.
“How’s everything going?” he asks. “I’m feeling great.”
It’s a headscratcher of sorts considering his current situation: Crouch and the Rams are sitting at 0-3 and he’s been sidelined with a severe ankle sprain since the first game of the season; not exactly the storybook ending he’d envisioned in his high school finale.
“Oh man it’s all about how you look at it,” Crouch says. “My purpose is so much bigger than football. I know that I’m here to use my platform to spread the word of Jesus.”
No, he’s not the next Tim Tebow and he’s quick to point out his flaws, but Crouch is adamant that his faith has gotten him to where he can be considered one of the top high school football players in the country. Currently, he checks in at No. 13 overall in USA TODAY Sports’ Chosen 25.
“I’m not a guy who’s walking around on water or anything like that,” says Crouch, who doubles as a running back and a linebacker for the Rams. “I just try to live my life according to my faith in God. It’s gotten me through a lot of tough times.”
Crouch grew up in church, but mostly went out of obligation to his grandmother Angela Dunlap.
“She made me go,” Crouch says with a laugh. “But, honestly, I was never all that serious about what I was learning.”
It wasn’t until his freshman year when he began playing for Sam Greiner, who left Harding last season to become the head football coach at Hickory Ridge (Harrisburg, N.C.), that his thought process began to transform.
“He really molded me,” Crouch says of Greiner. “He never forced things on me; I’d just watch how positive he was and how much he believed. It made me remember what I knew was right, basically. It really changed my whole perspective. My junior year is when I really started trying to live what I believe.”
First-year head coach Robert Cross was eager to connect with his star player when he took the job in June and said that he learned about Crouch’s faith before he ever learned about his perspective on running schemes or defensive reads.
“The first thing I said to him was, ‘Q, so tell me a little bit about yourself,” Cross recalls. “He told me, ‘Coach, I love the Lord.’ I was really impressed because that’s not something you hear every day from a kid in his position. We connected on that level and I believe it’s helped our connection on the field. He’s a true role model and really a great young man.”
Ironically, Crouch says the best part about his spiritual mentality shift is that he’s often referred to as “weird.”
“I love that,” Crouch says. “That’s what people say to someone who’s different. The Bible says to “be not of the world.’ Sometimes the right decisions can look weird because we’re programmed to think that the wrong thing is cool.
“Most people look at me and think they know how I’m gonna talk and act based off how I look and because I’m a five-star football player. I like to shock people when I’m the complete opposite.”
That said, Crouch was quick to add that he makes “mistakes every day.”
The difference now is that his convictions force him to fix situations that he normally wouldn’t give a second though about.
“I might get on a teammate out of frustration and say some harsh things to him in that moment,” Crouch says. “Then I’ll get home after practice and feel bad about it and text him and apologize and encourage him that I’m trying to make him better. It makes us both feel better.”
Grenier said that as dominant as Crouch is on the field, he’s “a lot more proud of the positive young man he has become.”
“The football speaks for itself, he’s a warrior in every aspect on the field, but football is temporary,” Grenier says. “His Godly foundation is built on a rock and that’s unbreakable. That will take him so much further than football ever could.”
Still, positive perspective aside, Crouch readily admits that, yes, “it sucks” to have to watch from the sideline while his teammates struggle on the gridiron and, sure, he’d love to be out there cracking pads and breaking ankles, but he’s a firm believer in the phrase “everything happens for a reason.”
The irony is that the plan this season was to play Crouch more at linebacker and less at running back; he injured his ankle while dragging multiple defenders over the goal line on one of his few carries in the season opener.
“It’s crazy, I mean I get hurt at the position I wasn’t planning to play that much this season,” said Crouch, who rushed for 3,283 yards and 33 touchdowns during the state title run last season. “That’s one of those things you just can’t explain. God had to allow that. I believe it’s because maybe something worse would’ve happened injury-wise had I kept playing. I’m gonna come back when I’m 100 percent ready.”
That won’t be this week when the Rams head to Gaffney (S.C.) on Friday.
“My ankle just isn’t there yet,” Crouch said. “God will guide me on when I should come back.”
He’s taking the same approach with his impending college decision.
Recently, Crouch cut his list of schools down to seven: Alabama, Michigan, Clemson, South Carolina, Tennessee, USC and Florida State.
He’ll take an official visit to Michigan the weekend of Oct. 13, Clemson the weekend of Nov. 17 and Florida State the weekend of Nov. 24. Crouch is still working on dates for his officials to Alabama and USC; he’s already visited South Carolina and Tennessee unofficially.
Crouch said throughout the process of getting to know the head coaches at each of his top schools he’s enjoyed connecting with Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh on a spiritual level.
“We talk about different adversities we’ve overcome in life and talk about Bible scriptures sometimes,” Crouch said. “Basically, we motivate each other. It’s pretty cool to get to know these coaches on a real level.”
That said, he won’t factor in any of the seven head coaches’ beliefs into his decision.
“There’s one school that God wants me to go to,” Crouch said. “I pray every day for God to lead me to where I’m supposed to be. I’m more worried about impacting people just in everyday life. Football is temporary, but God is forever.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY