When D.J. Crook hasn’t been playing quarterback at one school or another the last four years — when he has returned to his family’s home on Cape Cod each summer, or for semester break — he has been drawn once more to the sea. It’s in his blood, what he has always known.
A redshirt sophomore at the University of Albany (and a transfer from Penn State), he has been working on an oyster boat, something he plans to continue to do over the holiday break this year. That means early mornings and long days. And it means going out in all kinds of weather.
He coupled that job last summer with work on his cousin’s produce farm, in Worcester, Mass. Just wanted to help out, which involved another heavy workload — making wee-hours trips to a farm stand in Boston, etc.
Suffice it to say that work ethic will not be an issue as Crook attempts to lead the Great Danes (2-4) out of the doldrums. They have lost their last two heading into Saturday’s home game against 2-3 Villanova, by a combined score of 76-7 — 37-0 to Holy Cross two weeks ago and 39-7 to Maine last Saturday.
But Crook, in his first year at Albany after two at Penn State, would like very much to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.
“Me, personally, I’ve had a rough two weeks, just being able to run the offense,” he said. “There’s nothing that should really make that happen at this point. I’m into the offense now. I’ve been in the system for a while now. I’ve just got to pick up my own game.”
He needs to start playing more confidently, needs to begin “going out there free-minded and letting the ball fly when I need to throw it,” as he put it. And he needs to brush up on the finer points of his position like improving his reads and carrying out fakes more convincingly.
“This week I’ve been going to practice every day, busting my tail,” said Crook, who to date has completed 55% of his passes for 984 yards and seven touchdowns, with five interceptions. “I just think it was a matter of preparation.”
D.J. — the initials stand for “Doug Jr.” — is the oldest of three children. His dad is a chemistry teacher at Mashpee High School, while his mom, Tina, is the head of the math department at D.J.’s alma mater, Barnstable High. One of his sisters, Kayla, is studying toward her degree in biomedical engineering at the University of Connecticut, while the other, Sydney, is still in high school and his “biggest fan,” he said.
He threw for a Massachusetts-record 8,126 yards at Barnstable, as well as 77 touchdowns, then spent a year at Worcester Academy. Lacking options, he elected to walk on at Penn State in January 2013. After a redshirt year he spent the 2014 season as the primary backup to Christian Hackenberg, appearing late in a blowout of Massachusetts and completing six of nine passes for 57 yards and a touchdown.
But after last season he began taking stock. He concluded that for one thing, he wanted to be closer to home.
“Also it was getting a little pricey there,” he said, “and most importantly I just wanted to play ball. If I’m spending this much time and this amount of money and I’m not really going to have a chance, I just wanted to move on and find a new home.”
He began looking around, and Albany showed some interest. He announced on Twitter in early January that he was moving on, and he was able to play immediately because he was transferring from an FBS school to an FCS school. He admitted, however, that the transition has been “a little harder” than he might have imagined. He had to build trust with his new teammates. And he had to scrape off two years of rust.
The process is ongoing. But rest assured that D.J. Crook will keep working at it. That too is in his blood.