• Aaron Ferguson

Washington's Will Crouch far more than just a 'coach's son'

Updated: Sep 10, 2018

(Aaron Ferguson/Journal Star) Darrell Crouch won his 100th game with his son, Will, on the team. The father-son duo is unique but the entire family, including the mom, Kathleen (far left), and daughter/sister, McKenna (far right), have grown up around the game.

WASHINGTON — Being a coach’s son is difficult, but anyone attending a Washington football practice wouldn’t suspect one is on the team.

The Panthers coach is Darrell Crouch, beginning his 14th season as coach at the Mid-Illini Conference school. Linebacker Will Crouch chooses to call his father “Coach Crouch,” as if it’s a business transaction.

“I could say it’s different in a lot of ways,” Will said, “but in reality, I wouldn’t really know because he likes to treat everybody the same.”

If anything, Will said, he might get an extra push from dad.

“I’m his kid, so he wants to push me that extra level,” Will said. “It’s strange, because I always consider football (like) work hours between us. I always call him Coach, I never say, ‘Uh dad, can I please go in?’

“There’s a respect there, plus I don’t really work with him personally a lot.”

Will is Washington’s leading tackler, and his work ethic separates him from a lot of players. And that is something he gets from Darrell.

“He definitely plays hard,” Darrell said. “He played through that back injury the last four or five games last year. Toughness-wise, he just gets it, too. I think he maximizes. He was our leading tackler last year, and he was our leading special teams player on tackles, as well.

Those are two pretty big factors for us.

“I can’t ask him to do much more than that, and then he also backs up last year at offensive guard and started a game or two for us.”

Darrell was a lineman at Illinois State from 1982-85 and wrestled in the 85-86 season. He became Washington’s coach in 2005 after a nine-year stint at Eureka College, where he was a defensive coordinator before being elevated to head coach.

Will is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound linebacker that made 82.5 tackles last year and had six sacks. He will likely see time at offensive guard, tight end and on special teams. But some of the best and most-challenging moments between the two have occurred off the field.

“I never really looked at (the family legacy) in that sense, but I guess it does make sense because he would quote the ‘Lion King’ saying, ‘Remember who you are,’ ” Will said. “There is a little pressure, because you always have someone looking at you. Even in school, every teacher knows your name, even people you don’t know will automatically know you. So I wouldn’t say, in football, I ever feel any pressure, at all; I’ve always just done my thing. But I would say maybe in the classroom and in school, how to uphold yourself as a person there’s always that little bit of pressure.”

Expectations are high for Washington, which is 30-7 over the last three seasons with two trips to the quarterfinals and one to the semifinals. The Panthers enter this season ranked No. 1 statewide in Class 5A, according to The Associated Press preseason poll.

But football isn’t Will’s only shot at a state title, given he’s a well-spoken young man.

“Oh, that’s just speech,” he said.

It’s a little more than “just speech.”

Crouch and his older sister McKenna, who will graduate from Illinois Central College at semester’s end before enrolling at Illinois State, attended Epiphany Catholic School in Normal.

That is where Will began taking speech classes and rehearsing plays.

McKenna was a freshman when they moved over to Washington, and Will made a grand entrance into seventh grade by performing an “elevations of dance” act in the talent show.

Fast-forward to last winter, and Will won regional and sectional titles in two performance categories and moved on to the state finals.

“I’ve been able to do original comedy, which is me just writing eight minutes of some silly thing that hopefully someone would be interested in,” Will said, “and then there’s humorous duet acting, which is me and Ava Stovall, who is a very talented junior this year, and is kind of like me in the way that we think. And we were both happy enough to be champions regionally and sectionally in both those events.”

Said Darrell: “When you can be all-conference in football and win all-conference in your two categories in speech, I don’t know many of dudes that have done that.”

As Will enters his senior season, it will be bittersweet for Darrell, who has been afforded the opportunity to share lunch with his kids, go to the quarterfinals and semifinals with Will on the team and reach his 100th career win. “That’s pretty special,” Darrell said.

Said Darrell: “For me, I’m really blessed. My wife (Kathleen) is great. I couldn’t do the things I do without Kathleen and then just some of the pictures after the games that we’ve gotten as a family and the hugs — those things are just pretty cool. And it’ll be a little bit different now after this year. I’m sure there will be some games where my kids aren’t around or what not.

“I’ve been really lucky. We have a ton of great kids, but it’s a total different thing when it’s with your own son that you get a chance to share some of those things.”

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