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Perseverance pays off big at Crawford

11/29/2013, 7:11pm PST
By Kirk Kenney, U-T

After football program hits rock bottom, reborn Colts reach title game.

Crawford seniors (left to right) Luis Martinez, Courtney Roberts and Diego Cruz are four-year varsity players.

Three seniors on the Crawford High football team have learned a valuable life lesson over the past four years — it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.

Crawford went winless in 2010. The Colts won one game in 2011 and one game in 2012.

“Being the butt of jokes hurt all the time,” said Crawford’s Diego Cruz, one of three four-year varsity members along with Courtney Roberts and Luis Martinez.

So why stick around?

“I’ve played football since I was eight or nine,” said Cruz. “I love the sport. I couldn’t stop playing it.”

Said Roberts: “Growing up I was taught by my parents never to give up.”

Sometimes the reward for perseverance goes beyond your wildest dreams.

Crawford (12-0) takes the field tonight at 7 at Mesa College to play Holtville (10-2), aiming for a perfect finish in the San Diego Section Division V championship game.

Who could have imagined this?

“I knew we would improve, but never 12-0,” said Cruz. “This is very special.”

Crawford coach Michael Wright saw something special in Cruz, Roberts and Martinez when they were sophomores. Wright was teaching P.E. and not yet coach of the football team when he met the players.

“They’re kind of the reason I took this job,” said Wright, who accepted the position two years ago. “I would see those guys almost every day. … They were enduring a lot. There was not much going on here. Not much help.”

A former head coach at El Cajon Valley and Hoover, Wright was an assistant coach at Steele Canyon when he began teaching at Crawford. He got to thinking about the impact he could make for the Colts. It seems Cruz, Roberts and Martinez were pretty persuasive in daily discussions.

“Those conversations kept getting bigger and more meaningful,” said Wright. “I kind of got a bond with those three guys.”

It appears they will do anything — or play anywhere — for the coach.

Cruz plays tight end, defensive end and center; Roberts is a two-way linemen; and Martinez is an inside linebacker, offensive lineman and running back.

“Those three guys rarely leave the field,” said Wright. “They’re good kids. They’re not quitters like a lot of kids are when things are bad. They have that work ethic that, ‘We’re going to give it everything we have and let it fall where it falls.’ ”

Roberts calls it “a privilege” to be part of this year’s team, which has stirred the school’s spirit.

“It’s like a renaissance,” said Martinez. “Everybody got excited. They just started believing in us and supporting us, too. That’s kept us motivated.”

It is fitting that Crawford closes out the season against Holtville.

“They were our toughest opponent by far,” said Cruz, referring to a 21-14 midseason win over the Vikings. “Once we beat them, I knew it was something special, that we had a chance to go all the way.”

Cruz knows Holtville will be motivated because the Vikings “want to ruin our perfect season.”

While Holtville has a chance to win tonight, this will be a perfect season for the Colts regardless of the outcome.

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