Chillin' With Channing-Setting The Record Straight

Channing Crowder reaches down and touches knees that have gone under the knife five times. He knows all about the pain of tearing an anterior cruciate ligament and he can tell you all about the agony and sweat that you go through bringing one back after surgery. He also knows that the next time the knee blows out it might be the last time he can play football.

He also knows all about Ed Chester, who blew out his knee so badly playing for the Gators in 1998 that he never could play again. He's aware that Chester had a $1 million insurance policy that paid off when he was unable to play again. Crowder could have never bought a policy that large. Five previous knee surgeries made him too big a risk for any insurance company to cover him for $1 million.

One more injury could end his career. One more injury could end the chance he has to make his family financially secure for life. When he weighed the pros and cons about going into the National Football League Draft and staying in school for one more year, he only had to feel the scars on his knees to know that he was doing the right thing when the reports came back from the NFL and from other experts telling him that he would be drafted in the first or second round.

"It's a chance to make really good money and take care of my family for life, so that's what it's really all about," said Crowder Friday afternoon as he devoured a plate of wings and some crab legs at Hooters in Gainesville. "I love the University of Florida and if it wasn't about being able to take care of my family I would be playing football at the University of Florida next year but this is my chance. God's blessed me by letting me be a good athlete and now I can use what He's given me to help my family."

When Crowder announced that he was going to leave Florida to enter the NFL Draft just a few days after the Gators' loss to Miami in the Peach Bowl, there was a lot of talk that the choice was made for selfish reasons, that he was unwilling to buckle down to the kind of discipline that Coach Urban Meyer has brought to the Florida program. There was also talk that Crowder and Meyer just didn't get along at all.

Not so, says Crowder. He's ready to set that record straight.

"This choice has nothing at all to do about Coach Meyer being here," he said. "He and I are cool. I've got no problems with Coach Meyer and he has no problems with me. The other day when he had his press conference, he and I are talking when the SID guy comes and says 'Three minutes Urban' and Coach Meyer says, 'yeah, yeah, just a minute' and we keep on talking for about five or six more minutes. We weren't even talking football then, just about life. He's told me that the door is always open and I'm always welcome at Florida."

Crowder said that Meyer fully understands that the choice he made to go to the NFL is about taking care of his family and that there may never be this chance again.

"You take Ed Chester … he had insurance for about a million dollars so he's lucky he had that," Crowder said. "People tell me he would have been a first rounder, so he's really lucky he had some protection. But you have to think about all those things when you make the choice. Not everybody has a chance like I have. I thought about my mom and family and what I can do for them by going ahead to the NFL. I've got a chance that I think I have to take and I might not have this chance again.

"Look at a guy like [Ohio State's Maurice] Clarett. He was the talk a year ago and now they talk about him the second day and maybe he won't even get drafted. I'm coming off a year when I'm All-SEC, All-American and things like that so I've got a lot of things that are in my favor, but what if I came back here and I get hurt? Like maybe I hurt the same knee that I hurt my senior year in high school. Then I'm damaged goods. So I come back here and blow out my knee again, what do you think my chances would be then? I'd love to play for the Gators next year, but my mother and my family are just too important. I've got the chance to secure everybody for life. I can't pass up that chance. You know me. I could live on chicken wings and wear T-shirts for life and go to school and I'd be happy, but I have a chance to take care of my family. That's just too important."

Although he will be playing in the NFL next year, he will continue to take classes. Just because he's leaving Florida doesn't mean he is not committed to getting his UF degree.

Channing Crowder proudly shows off his wheels decked out in Orange and Blue

"I'll always be taking classes and doing whatever I have to do to get that degree," he said. "One of these days, I want to have six, seven, maybe eight sons. I love kids. I want to have a houseful of kids. Well, I doubt all of them are going to make it to the NFL so they've got to have an education and how can I tell my kids to do this or do that if I don't have a diploma hanging on the wall next to the plaques and trophies? That degree will be hanging right there and it will tell them that the education went hand in hand with what I did on the field.

"I came out of high school with a 1080 SAT and a 3.7. I've got a 3.0 or a little better than that right now. I love going to class. I love being in school. I know what education means and believe me, if I didn't know it, my mom would make sure that I do. No, I'll get my degree and I'll have that to fall back on because I won't be playing football all my life. If football ends, you have to have some education to fall back on, and that's why you can know I'll finish up here and get my degree."

In his two years at Florida, Crowder made All-Southeastern Conference and All-America. On the field, he was the consummate team player who gave one hundred percent on every play. He made good academic progress, but his legacy at Florida is tainted somewhat by some off the field incidents that included a couple of arrests.

While both incidents were blown way out of proportion, Crowder is still embarrassed that they happened. He will tell you that the incidents should have never happened, but he will also tell you that in both situations, he was not the instigator.

"If you're my teammate it doesn't matter if you're the All-America quarterback or the water boy or trainer, you're part of the team, so that means you're my teammate and my brother," said Crowder. "Black, white, big guy, small guy, player or just the trainer, if you're in trouble and you're on my team, I've got your back.

"I'm one of those guys who remembers running the stadium steps at 5:45 in the morning and I remember that guy so tired that he threw up all over my leg. So on Friday night two or three guys are going to punch him after what he we've been through together? That's my brother you're punching. You're picking on him, so let's see if you're man enough to pick on me."

All that being said, Crowder says that the incidents were silly, shouldn't have happened and because of the embarrassment it brought to him, to his teammates, Coach Ron Zook, the University of Florida, and more importantly, to his mother, this is not something that particularly makes him proud.

"I'm not trying to defend myself and I'm not going to make excuses," he said. "Should all this stuff have happened? No way. I maybe could have found a better way to handle things but I didn't do it well. Taking time to look at the way I did things, I've had to grow up a lot since then but I can still tell you, if you're my brother or teammate or someone I love and I see you're in trouble, I'm there, man. I'm there."

It has been said that the incidents off the field have clouded the thinking of some NFL teams, many of whom have been rumored to think Crowder is a "character risk." If that's the case, then Crowder asks why has he been contacted by all but two of the teams in the league and why have their personnel people come away impressed that he's a stand-up guy?

"They've talked to me and investigated me completely," he said. "The NFL coaches know I'm not going to be a problem for them. I did 25 official interviews and since then I've talked to another five teams and they've told me that they're satisfied with what they've found out and what I've told them. They know I didn't start those fights and that it was a team matter and me taking up for a teammate. They know I don't go looking for trouble and that I'm committed to stay out of places and situations where trouble could start. Every team that I've talked to has told me they're impressed with the way I've addressed the issues and they told me they know I'm not a trouble maker."

Crowder was known for his close relationship with Coach Zook. He was disappointed that Zook didn't get the chance to continue coaching at Florida and he offered some insight why Zook was fired.

"When it came to just football stuff, I'm telling you, Coach Zook is a good coach," he said. "I love Coach Zook but this isn't about personal feelings. He really does know football and he's really a good coach. If you let him just coach practice and games and there's no political stuff involved, then Coach Zook can do it, but he had troubles with the political stuff you have to do, stuff like all the speeches and shaking hands and then the campus politics and stuff with boosters. Football he's good at. That other stuff is where he had problems and he got distracted. I think if he could have separated it he could still be the coach here. I think he would have succeeded."

Shortly after Meyer got to Gainesville, Crowder had a chance to talk with the new head Gator. He discovered that there's a lot to like in this new coach, especially the confidence.

"You know me, I'm a confident kind of guy," said Crowder. "I'm the kind of guy who says I'm going to do something and then I go out there and do it. Well, that's the kind of guy that Coach Meyer is. He's got that kind of confidence about him that he knows what he's going to do and he's going to do it. If he says that he's going to do something, believe him, so believe him when he says he's going to win championships here.

"I have known him officially for two months now and I've had about five or six good conversations with him and he just makes you feel comfortable with the way he is about things. He's going to do what he says at Florida and there are going to be some really good times here. We were talking this one day and he says to me 'How would you like to be playing defense knowing that every time you get the ball, we're going to score?' and I just went whoa! This guy's gonna do it here. He's really gonna do it!"

Asked how he wants Channing Crowder to be remembered as a Gator, he said "I hope people will remember me as a guy who played as hard as he could and loved being a Florida Gator. I hope they will remember me as a guy who had a lot of fun here, as a guy who who loved being a student here and who loved playing football. I'm as orange and blue as it gets. This is my school. This is my team. I'm a Gator forever."

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