DeCock: Crowder’s load lightened by support, victory

luke.decock@newsobserver.comSeptember 1, 2012 

— Anything less than perfection was going to feel like it came up short. Jamison Crowder knew all too well whose spot he was filling on the field for Duke.

Blair Holliday was supposed to start opposite Conner Vernon at wide receiver. Instead, he was in Atlanta, continuing the remarkable recovery from the brain injury he suffered when his personal watercraft collided with Crowder’s on July Fourth. If that burden wasn’t enough to carry, Crowder was also asked to replace Holliday on the field.

Great men have crumbled under less. Crowder shone.

In his first start for Duke, Crowder, a sophomore from Monroe, caught six passes for 102 yards and a touchdown as the Blue Devils rolled over Florida International, 46-26. If it looked like an inspired performance, it’s only because it was.

“Real inspired,” Crowder said. “A lot of us playing inspired. We know what we’re playing for and who we’re playing for.”

As other ACC teams either struggled with lesser opponents – Maryland against William & Mary, Wake Forest against Liberty – or otherwise severely disappointed their fan base, the Blue Devils exceeded all expectations for their opener, except perhaps their own.

It has been a difficult summer for Duke, dealing with the aftermath of the tragic accident that left one teammate in intensive care for a month and another shaken to the core by his involvement.

Duke deputy athletic director Stan Wilcox works closely with the football team and was part of the Duke delegation that visited Holliday in Atlanta this week. He watched as Crowder’s teammates embraced him, and more importantly, the Holliday family as well, support that enabled Crowder to perform as well as he did Saturday night.

“That’s due in large part to the support system that’s around him, mainly the Holliday family themselves,” Wilcox said. “When they saw Jamison, they basically embraced him and let him know, ‘Hey, this is something that can happen to anybody. This is not your fault. We still love you.’ I think once that occurred, it just took a load off him. We can all sit here and tell him that, but when you hear it from the family, that really sunk in.”

Holliday even made a cameo appearance, and not just with his No. 8 on his teammates’ helmets. He delivered a videotaped message on the scoreboard after the first quarter, a public reminder of both his progress and the long road he still faces toward recovery.

Holliday’s absence surrounds this team like an aura, something that isn’t consciously thought about but never quite goes away completely. His teammates delivered a similarly inspired performance that honored Holliday’s own, more serious fight – and no one less than Crowder.

“Jamison’s come a long way,” Duke quarterback Sean Renfree said. “He’s done a great job at kind of managing that. The guys have really helped him put things in perspective. Things are still tough for him, but he’s a great kid. He’ll make it through this process.”

Holliday continues to make amazing progress, moving to an outpatient rehabilitation facility in Atlanta this week. Crowder continues a recovery of a different kind, retreating to the safety of his teammates, who suddenly have so much to celebrate.

“The team, they really brought me in,” Crowder said. “The team came together, even though it’s been a difficult time. We got through it pretty well. We’ll continue to grow as a team.”, Twitter: @LukeDeCock, (919) 829-8947

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