After all, heading into the 2009 season, Jacksonville Christian already had a quarterback.
Well, that was until it didn’t anymore.
After a transfer back into the public school ranks left the Thunder without a signal-caller late into the preseason, long-time JCA coach Tommy Miller went into the locker room and picked one out.
“I didn’t know what to think when coach Miller told me,” Crook said. “But they supported me, and I went out there and ended up loving it.
“I really had a blast.”
While it was during the summer that Crook became the team’s quarterback, it wasn’t until the fall that he added the adjective of “star” to the equation.
With Piedmont quarterback Chase Childers, the state’s Bryant-Jordan award winner, taking the Calhoun County Class 1A-3A Player of the Year award, Crook said “he was real surprised” when he slipped into the vacant spot as the team’s quarterback — especially after learning of it by being called to the principal’s office.
“I really didn’t know what he was going to say,” Crook said of Miller, who doubles as the school’s administrator.
But after throwing for 1,111 yards and 14 touchdowns, he shouldn’t have been. But considering the expectations set forth for him at the beginning of the season, well, it was a shock to everyone.
“He didn’t have a lot of time to get ready,” Miller said. “He really surprised me with the way he played.”
Without a full year to prepare, Crook ended up scoring the Thunder’s first touchdown of the year, and scored many more through the air and on the ground, leading JCA to a near-miss of a playoff berth, falling just one win short.
But this year, there’ll be no question of his ability, so all the pressure will be on him to perform — if it weren’t already.
To ease his transition at the position last year, Crook had talented players around him. Payton Green was the team’s leading rusher and 6-foot-6 Jacob Bollinger was the team’s leading receiver.
Each of those players is gone, leaving a lot of the load squarely on Crook’s shoulders.
“I do, I expect a lot out of him this year,” Miller said. “He’s going to have to lead, and he does a real good job of leading out there on the field.”
While the Thunder might not have that tall target to look for on deep balls and third-down situations, Crook said he has confidence in the receivers he has around him this year.
Cameron Bryant, who saw time at running back last year, will also be back to fill the void left by Green.
The running game will be big for the Thunder, and that might be where Crook will excel this season.
“At Oxford back through the years, when coach Burgess was there and they ran the wishbone so good,” Miller said, “… I just thought they ran the option just exceptional down there, and Matt reminds me of those guys.”
Just like Oxford used to do so often during Burgess’ tenure, Crook has his eyes set on the same goal as those old-time Yellow Jackets.
“This year, I’ve got another year under my belt,” he said. “I know there’ll be big expectations for me, but I’ve got big expectations for myself and for this team.
“Last year I had to learn, this year will be different — it won’t be like I’m starting at one. … this year, our mindset is making the playoffs.”
Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570.