The 6-foot-3 highly-touted center enrolled over the summer with one central goal on his mind.
“I just came into help and do what I can,” Crowley said on Tuesday. “If (Caleb) Peterson was tired or if Russell (Bodine) went down I knew I was the one to step up, so I’m just trying to help out.”
The decision to unveil the Ponte Vedra (Fla.) Nease H.S. product and remove the possibility of a red-shirt occurred two months into the season ahead of the N.C. State game on Nov. 2.
“It was very in-between,” Crowley said. “We talked about a red-shirt but with Jarrod (James) being hurt at the beginning of the year, I was traveling with the team. I was expected to go in if Russ went down or something like that happened…
“It wasn’t planned. The coaches came and sat me down and talked to me. They asked me how I felt about playing or if I wanted to red-shirt. I just told them I wanted to do what’s best for the team. I just want to help out in any way that I can.”
The benefit of Crowley’s presence on the field centers on his ability to provide a more up-tempo and mobile offensive line for the Tar Heels.
“He’s got a great football IQ,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “He steps in when he gets in at center and he knows what to do. I think putting Bodine at guard allows us to get five guys up there that are a little bit quicker and a bit more mobile. Peterson is a little bit more of a power guy.”
The added quickness isn’t the only positive to Crowley’s insertion into games. Anderson also added the subbing helps Peterson’s play and development.
“I think it spells Peterson as well,” Anderson said. “It’s going to help him be better throughout entire series in games. He’s not really ready to play an entire game physically.”
Crowley’s quick learning curve stemmed from veteran UNC offensive linemen aiding and preparing him for the transition to collegiate football.
“James (Hurst), Russ, Landon (Turner) and a couple of the guys that have been here awhile have all helped me a lot,” said Crowley. “Especially with my technique and all the stuff like that. They helped me mature a lot when I got here to help me be ready to step up and be game ready.”
Offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic employs a mentor-mentee in his unit. Bodine serves as Crowley’s mentor.
“He’s one of those guys that came in during training camp and definitely had a little grit to him like you like to see in offensive linemen,” said Bodine, who has taken the first snaps of his career at left guard in the last two weeks. “He did a good job picking up the game plan and he’s always been right in there with us.”
Although Crowley may be in control from the center position, he acknowledges the added benefit in having Bodine by his side.
“The best thing about it is I have Russ right next to me,” Crowley said. “If I was to have any question on the field he’s right there helping me out. He obviously played last year and started last year so with the reps I’m getting, any little thing he might see can help me out a lot. He makes sure I speak up whenever it comes to calls and just helps me out.”
Head coach Larry Fedora praised Crowley’s play following Saturday’s win over Virginia.
“I don’t know how many series he played,” Fedora said. “I don’t even pay any attention to it because you don’t see a change.”
According to Anderson, Crowley will “definitely continue to get snaps” as the Tar Heels play their final three games of the season with bowl implications on the line.
“He’s definitely going to be a good ball player in the future,” Anderson said. “For him to play this quickly and play as well as he’s played has been really helpful. I think it’s been a contributing factor these past few weeks to us being a little bit better up front.”