VODKOW EST FAIT POUR ÇA :quatrième corde – l’histoire de Dustin Crum
Saturday, July 8th – the season thus far for the Ottawa REDBLACKS has been tumultuous. A pair of losses to start the season prompted a quarterback change, and in his first start of 2023, Tyrie Adams suffered a season-ending injury in the REDBLACKS’ 26-7 win over the Edmonton Elks.
Luckily, things are about to change. In Week 5, Jeremiah Masoli is set to make his return, and in Hamilton, no less. Finally, the season meets its real starting point. The hype is real, and expectations are high.
Second and 10, 6:25 to go in the second, Masoli rolls out, you know the rest. Tumultuous. You can’t be serious. Does it even matter who comes off the bench? Who even is the fourth-stringer? Didn’t he attend Kansas City Chiefs’ training camp?
All of the questions asked by fans were probably running through the minds of the players at the same time, as Dustin Crum stepped in for his first CFL drive. Jackson Bennett runs, Crum’s pass falls incomplete, and Richie Leone punts. Not a great start.
With one last chance to score before the halftime break, Crum showed his first flash, two runs for 29 yards and a touchdown. At the game’s death, everyone remembers Crum being stopped one yard short of the endzone, sealing another loss, dropping the REDBLACKS to 1-3.
Immediately, Crum accepted responsibility for the loss, earning a vote of confidence from teammates.
Today, the REDBLACKS have gone home, and Head Coach Bob Dyce called the season “unacceptable.” Ottawa boasted the fifth-best offence in the CFL based on points scored with 415, but finished the year minus 92, which tells you that the average game was decided by about five points.
The season saw a huge difference in how Crum was viewed throughout the year, as well. He went from being a no-name kid, to a superstar after beating Winnipeg in what has been named “The Crumback,” and then laying 43 points on the Calgary Stampeders the very next week. People called into the post-game show on TSN 1200 worried he would be in the NFL by the end of the year, already proclaiming him to be the saviour.
Obviously, that pace couldn’t last, and he fell back a touch, but continued working to make progress. Ups and downs, good and bad. It’s normal, every rookie deals with it. But for Crum, it feels like the season happened over the course of years, not weeks.
“It’s hard to say you feel like a rookie anymore at this point,” Crum said. “The season is long, and I’ve been through all of the ups and downs and the roller coaster it has been for us. I feel like it was forever ago when I got that first action in Hamilton, and I feel like a different player in a lot of ways.”
The immediate success also came with attention. On the game broadcast, highlights of big moments were shown constantly, he was talked about in fan circles, hated by some, who hoped he would fail, but loved by others, already believing he’s the best quarterback in Ottawa since Henry Burris.
With that comes pressure, Crum won’t deny that he felt it at times, but it wasn’t the external expectations that weighed on him the most.
“As a quarterback, you’re thrust into the spotlight whether you like it or not,” Crum said. “I was used to that already, but the biggest [adjustment] for me was my leadership role on the team. A rookie fourth-string quarterback playing in Canada for the first time, you sit in the back seat and learn and try to pick up everything you can. I got thrown into the fire, and I had to learn fast while also being that leader.”
After the victory in Calgary, the REDBLACKS went on an unenviable streak, losing seven consecutive games. Suddenly, the calls to the post-game show were suggesting benching Crum, saying he wasn’t the answer, but still, his performances continued to improve, despite the losses.
Two of his best performances came in Toronto against the Argonauts, and in Vancouver against the Lions, where he was a combined 40/56 passing for 562 yards, with six touchdowns (combined) and only one interception. A win finally came over the Saskatchewan Roughriders at home, something the club took some pride in, after allowing a few get away from them in the previous weeks.
“I think sometimes people forget that he came in as our fourth-string quarterback,” said Dyce after the REDBLACKS’ victory on September 22nd. “A lot of times, people expect these guys to go out and turn it on right away, but the path is going to be up and down. What you have seen is that he’s rising. When you watch him drop back now, he’s a lot more confident in making a quick discussion and getting the ball out of his hands. I expect him to even get better.”
Crum finished the season throwing for 3,100 yards and 10 passing touchdowns, while adding another 741 yards and nine majors on the ground. He’s taking pride in that, but he faced criticism toward the end of the year for the interceptions number inflating. In large, he protected the ball for most of his starts, but in the final four weeks, Crum threw five picks, which he says is somewhat of a by-product of comfort.
At 24 years old, that’s a part of the learning process. Mistakes will happen, and in many instances, those mistakes came as a result of trying to make a play, believing his teammates would make a big play.
In the toughest moments – and there were a lot of them, especially considering he was the most sacked quarterback in the CFL, going down 57 times – Crum stood strong. No matter how hobbled he was getting up, how many turnovers there had been, or how many points they were behind, he continued to play, heart on his sleeve – like a great leader would.
“It comes down to how much you care, and how much you love your teammates,” Crum said. “I have a ton of respect for those guys, and they battle through things as well. I’ll never leave my guys out there if I can help it, I owe it to the team. I’m getting paid, I have a job to do, so I need to perform at the highest level I can for my team and the fans.”
If you put the film from his first game, and from his most recent game side-by-side, you’re absolutely going to see some big differences. Crum says he feels like he made progress every week, but refuses to take any of the credit for it, instead complimenting the offence for how to congealed together, and embraced him, even though he was “just” the fourth-string quarterback.
“It’s not just me, it’s us as an offence,” Crum said. “We’ve gotten better. We’ve grown as a group, we’ve had stability. We’ve had moments where there’s been some sustained success, rather than just having a good quarter and struggling the rest of the game.”
The biggest improvements mirror his biggest challenges, coming off the field. As a starting quarterback in the CFL, you need to be the one guy in the room who can keep guys pointed in the right direction. You are the one who needs to put your best foot forward, because everyone is watching. You are the hope.
Those asks for such a young man with no experience are daunting, and for many, they never would have been able to overcome it. In the NFL, by comparison, there are only six pivots younger than 24, and their battles are similar. Leadership takes time, and respect is earned, not given.
“I think it’s important to be right with your actions before you take that vocal step,” Crum said. “That means a lot to me as a person, that’s something I’ve emphasized in the way I carry myself. I want to put myself in a spot where I can hold up my end of the bargain, so I can start helping other guys get their stuff right.”
As the weeks went on, it became more natural, and Dyce gushes when he talks about his young pivot off the field.
“He’s a great leader and a courageous man,” he said. “Those guys in the room believe in him 100 percent, and I expect the rise to keep going.”
Heading into the offseason, the future is unclear for Crum. He may be the starter for the REDBLACKS in 2024, and he may not, but he does know that he’s on the right track to stardom.
“I have the self-belief that I can be successful in this league,” Crum said. “I’m looking forward to whatever opportunity I have moving forward, and I’m looking to take advantage of it.”
He might link up with a quarterback coach he’s worked with in the past, or he might keep to himself, that too is unclear, but the 14 starts have given him a good idea of what he wants to work on during his time back home in Ohio.
“Being able to do a little more technique-wise,” Crum said. “Maybe that’s footwork, the zone-read type plays, they are different here, so I want to create those big play opportunities.”
He’s working toward lifting the REDBLACKS out of this multi-year funk they have been mired in. He’s done it at Kent State, and he plans to help do it again, and already, he feels like that’s something he owes the fans.
That’s because he already believes Ottawa is home, and understands how great the fans of RNation truly are.
“I love it,” Crum said. “I know in the CFL, guys end up moving around and playing for a bunch of teams, but if I could stay here my whole career, I would love to, to be honest. I take pride in changing a culture, and giving a city and fan base something to be proud of is [something I strive for].”