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Crawford’s jersey retirement Whittell’s first

Michael Traum

It’s 1991 and the Whittell High football team is taking a rest during practice. The team’s feeling good, in the middle of a state-title chase, and coach John Summers is looking for additional ways to motivate his already over-achieving squad. “Tell you what,” Summers says to his young charges, “if any of you guys ever make it to the NFL, the school will retire your football jersey.”

The team went on to finish state runners-up, losing to Boulder City in the Nevada 2A title game. Since then, most of the players have moved on to “everyday” careers.

But one of those young players took Summers’ words to heart.

And on Friday night, Mike Crawford is going to cash in on the offer.

During halftime of the boys basketball game vs. school rival Incline, Crawford’s No. 90 will be forever enshrined by Whittell High – the first jersey from any sport retired since the school opened in 1960.

“It’s a big feat for a kid from such a small school area to go as far he he’s gone. How can you not be proud,” Summers said.

Crawford’s “feat” is well-documented around these parts. An under-sized, hyper-exciting tight end and defensive lineman in high school, Crawford went on to play linebacker at Nevada, where he earned MVP honors in the 1996 Las Vegas Bowl. Soon after, he was drafted in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins, where he just completed his rookie campaign.

“It’s a big honor for me to get my jersey retired. I’m thankful to the school,” Crawford said. “If a kid could have any goal in their high school career, this would be it.”

Crawford was a standout player among many gifted athletes in high school, according to Summers. The coach remembers many times when the young athlete made plays that turned the tide in the Warriors’ favor.

“Once we were trailing North Tahoe and we forced them to punt. Our returner had one guy to beat on the sidelines. Out of nowhere, Crawford comes flying. I’d swear it must have been 10 yards in the air and he took the guy out. We scored a touchdown,” Summers said. “That same year, he caught a touchdown pass in the ‘Snow Bowl’ vs. Truckee. It was a score which pretty much put them away and gave us a league championship.”

Crawford’s memories of the high school gridiron are just as fond.

“It’s the friends, the practices, the whole football life,” said Crawford, who didn’t play football during his freshman year. “I was getting bounced around the halls because I played soccer. That year, the team won the 1A state championship.

“That was a good team, but my senior year I think we were better. In fact, we were the best team to come through Whittell. That’ll probably get me in trouble with those guys. We always sit around and talk about who would’ve won between those two teams,” added Crawford with a smile.

School officials will present Crawford with a plaque and lifetime athletic events pass – the first pass ever issued to a former student. Crawford’s high school jersey will hang with one of his Dolphin jerseys in a frame, which will be displayed in the school’s foyer.

Game time for the basketball game is 7:30 p.m. in Zephyr Cove.

Tahoe Daily Tribune E-mail: tribune@tahoe.com

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