Crowley (6-3, 290) played 11 snaps against N.C. State on Nov. 2, allowing Bodine to slide to left guard to spell Peterson. He played 26 snaps the next week against Virginia before being pushed into a starting role when Bodine was sidelined with an injury. The opponent was Pittsburgh and Bronko Nagurski award-winning defensive tackle Aaron Donald.
Donald tallied a season-high five quarterback hurries, but was held in check with only one sack and three tackles for loss. Crowley countered with five knockdowns while playing all 66 snaps at center.
“It was a big confidence boost for me,” Crowley said of his matchup with Donald. “Since it was my first game as a starter, I really didn’t know what to expect besides what I had seen on film. Obviously, I had to be nervous with him being so good. A player like that, and having that being my first starting game, it gives me confidence this year going into games knowing that there’s not many people that I’ll face that are as good as him.”
Crowley appeared in UNC’s final six games, often alongside of Bodine, who served as his mentor.
“He was definitely one of the toughest people I’ve met,” Crowley said. “He always pushed through injuries in practice to get it done.”
Instead of requesting ice and rest when rolling his ankle, Bodine would ask for a tape job before returning to the practice field, according to Crowley. Practice tough, play tough.
Crowley, who is currently 19 years old, spent the offseason working on his snaps – he only played one year at center in high school – and living in the film room.
“I’ve focused on understanding the playbook a lot better,” Crowley said. “Last year, I got the playbook down, but I didn’t know it forward and backward like I do now. I didn’t know the ins and outs of the playbook like I do know, I just knew what to do and what my assignment was, not what his assignment is and his assignment is.”
His progress has been consistent throughout the offseason, which is critical considering he is one of four sophomores currently working with the first-team offensive line.
“He’s gotten better than he was in the spring and he was better in the spring than he was in the fall,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora told reporters on Tuesday.
Fedora added that Crowley’s comfort level in being the quarterback of the offensive line has increased to the point that he can finally start excelling as a player.
His potential is immense, although his youth and inexperience continue to serve as typical obstacles.
“I laugh sometimes because I look at him like he’s a veteran because he played last year, but he’s a sophomore with six games under his belt,” UNC offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic said. “He’s doing a solid job. I think right now, with him being the guy and seeing everything, there are times when it gets a little overwhelming.
“When he went into a game last year, the game plan was narrowed in on what they do. Right now, we’re running everything against everything, so you can see a lot of paralysis through analysis and being hesitant. But, I think, once it clicks and when he plays with confidence, he does a very good job.”
Crowley can look to Bodine for the ideal career progression advice. Bodine appeared in nine games in 2011 as a red-shirt freshman as a backup center to Cam Holland before starting all 12 games in 2012 and helping UNC set school records in points per game (40.8).