Friend Becomes Foe for BYU

In the cinematic classic Star Wars, Jedi master Obi Wan Kenobi faces his former apprentice Darth Vader. As the duel begins, Vader greets Obi Wan with the line: "The circle is now complete. When I left you, I was but the learner; now I am the master." Although not in a galaxy far, far away, the 2006 Las Vegas Bowl will feature a reunion with similar role reversal.

BYU fans can thank Gary Crowton for many of the players who were instrumental in BYU's success and return to glory this year. Back in 2002, Coach Crowton started his recruiting at BYU with a bang. He beat out Norm Chow of USC as well as UCLA, Nebraska, and Oregon for the services of offensive linemen Jake Kuresa.

He also snatched Brighton High School star Bryan Kehl away from Coach McBride of Utah and got Daniel Coats to pass on North Carolina. He brought future BYU record breaking running back Curtis Brown into the program and persuaded Fui Vakapuna to don the blue and white over the red and white of Utah and Nebraska.

"I was his first recruit that committed to him that year," said Kehl. "It will be good to see him again. I haven't spoken to him since he's been gone from BYU. Right before I got home from my mission, he called my house and left a message just saying that he hoped I was doing well and had a good mission and all that, but other than that I haven't spoken to him since I left. Just to see him will be nice, and he's a very good man, a great person and a good coach."

The following year, Crowton brought in an Arizona quarterback with scholarship offers from Miami and ASU as a walk-on fresh off his mission. John Beck would later pass the likes of Jim McMahon, Steve Young, Robbie Bosco and many other BYU quarterback greats in almost all offensive categories.

"Coach Crowton is someone that I have a tremendous amount of respect for, and when the game is done I'm probably going to go over and probably give him a big hug and just tell him thanks for everything he's done to help me out," said Beck. "But when the game is going, it's BYU versus Oregon, and that's all that matters."

Following a tough loss, it was Coach Crowton who sat beside a visibly emotional John Beck and fired back at the Salt Lake media in defense of his quarterback.

"This guy is going to be a very good quarterback someday," Crowton voiced out during the post game press conference. "He's going to be a dang good quarterback if you guys would just give him the chance to grow."

"Where I stand today and the person that I am today is because of the road that I went through," said Beck. "Coach Crowton was a part of that road, and although it was a tough one, it was a very memorable one for me because it really taught me who I am and how hard I had to work every day if I want to be successful."

Following the 2004 New Mexico game, which Beck played as a sophomore, Crowton told reporters waiting on the practice field about what he sees developing in what was then his young quarterback.

"You can see [John] developing all through the game," Crowton said. "He's a sophomore and was also voted as a captain. His strength is working very hard and understanding the game and then helping everybody around him. I was really impressed with his desire to win that [New Mexico] game last week.

"When we went into the two minute offense, he called a lot of the shots down there and knew exactly what we had meetings on and knew exactly what we wanted and did it without having to be reminded. I was very impressed with that, and I think he'll continue to develop. He's got a lot of potential, and I can see it to starting to come forth through the season."

In an intriguing twist of irony, Coach Crowton will be scheming against the very players he brought to BYU, players that were directly involved in taking BYU to where he once hoped they would be. In a further bit of irony, Bronco Mendenhall – the man Crowton brought to BYU as a defensive coordinator – was able to finish the job that Crowton started.

Although Crowton was essentially run out of town by fans, donors, administrators, and even a few players, there has not been much talk about the negativity that surrounded the program under his direction. According to linebacker Cameron Jensen, the opposite has been more the case.

"It's more that he was our coach and we're all thankful that he brought us here," Jensen said. "If anything, it will be fun to see him again, and we know it's a great offense we'll be going against. I look forward to the challenge."

"I love the man, and I played under him his second year, my freshman year, so I'm excited to see him in person again and it will be fun to go up against him," said Bryan Kehl. "They'll be a tough opponent. Oregon is a great team, and I've seen just a few moments here and there throughout their season. They have a lot of athletes and I'm excited to go up against the high flying Gary Crowton offense."

Crowton stepped down as BYU's head coach two years ago this December. By the time the Las Vegas Bowl rolls around, it will also have been two years since he last spoke to most of his former BYU players.

"The last time I actually got to talk to Coach [Crowton] was the night before he resigned as head coach," said Beck. "He called me and said, ‘John, I'm leaving, but I want to tell you good luck in the rest of your future.' Like I said, I've learned so much from him, but when we step out onto the field it will be just like any other friend. I've played against a lot of friends in college football. I've played against guys that I've played on high school all-star teams with that were on other teams and yet we were friends. When you step onto the field, it's your team against theirs, and on December 21st, it's going to be BYU versus Oregon and that's all that matters."


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