Jared Crayton hasn’t had the easiest roads towards high school football stardom.
The St. Peter’s Prep senior running back was forced to be a mature young man far before his time, then had to bide his time to get a chance to play, then had to overcome an injury to finally get his chance to shine.
First, Crayton had to endure the death of his father, Gregory Crayton, when Jared was just 11 years old.
“He always wanted to make me into a basketball player first,” the younger Crayton said, recalling his father. “But he was the coach that no one could replace because he was my Dad. He knew what was best for me and always watched out for me. I always think about him whenever I hear something from the sidelines, because that’s who he was. I always heard him from the sidelines. I’ll never forget him.”
The younger Crayton wears a tattoo that bears his late father’s name.
“He’s always with me,” Crayton said of Gregory Crayton, who was just 49 years old when he passed away seven years ago.
Then Crayton suffered another personal setback, when his grandmother, Carmen Artache, passed away last year.
“That one hit me the most,” Crayton said about the loss of his grandmother, who helped to raise Crayton during his childhood days in Jersey City. “She was such a strong woman, such a great woman. Whenever I take the field, they’re both with me.”
Crayton had to wait patiently for his chance to get the bulk of the carries in the Prep backfield. That’s because he played for two years behind the state’s premier player, Savon Huggins, who was the two-time Hudson Reporter Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player, the only player to receive both honors in consecutive seasons.
Huggins, a Parade All-American, scored 35 touchdowns last season and rushed for more than 1,800 yards. When Crayton managed to get playing time a year ago, he showed flashes of brilliance and appeared more than capable of stepping into Huggins’ shoes – if such an idea was possible.
“Since sophomore year, I knew the day would come where I would have to replace Savon,” Crayton said of Huggins, who is currently at Rutgers University. “Savon was able to teach me a lot over those two years. He taught me about leadership. He taught me that there was no room at all for personal problems. He was a great player and no one could really replace him. But I had the mindset to do whatever I could to help the team keep winning.”
Crayton was asked if there was any pressure trying to step in and fill in for the school’s all-time leading rusher and the best running back that ever came out of Grand and Warren.
“Sure, there was pressure and maybe I underestimated the pressure a little,” Crayton said. “But I definitely felt the pressure.”
Veteran Prep head coach Rich Hansen understood the burden that Crayton had to bear.
“I’m sure he felt pressure to perform,” Hansen said. “Jared wants to be great and he waited his time. He served his role as a backup to Savon and was ready to take his turn. Coming into the season, we all believed Jared was ready for the challenge.”
But in the preseason, Crayton suffered a shoulder injury, then hurt his knee a little. The nagging injuries limited Crayton’s productivity in the beginning of the season.
“His shoulder was banged up, so we tried to be a little careful with him,” Hansen said. “We tried to protect Jared, but Jared wanted to play, even though he was sore. Sometimes, Jared’s worst enemy is himself, because he pushes himself so hard. He has a relentless running style, but sometimes, that style has a wear and tear on the body. We didn’t need him to be a workhorse early, but that was tough on Jared.”
“You have no idea how concerned I was,” Crayton said. “I always had these great visions of my senior year and me doing everything. Now, I was a little hurt, not 100 percent and unable to play the way I wanted. It was heartbreaking.”
So were the early season results, as the Marauders dropped their first two contests of the season to Montclair and St. Joseph of Montvale, surrendering 40 points in each of those losses.
“I think we all were a little worried at that point,” Crayton said. “After the second loss, we had to treat every game like a fight for a playoff spot. We all felt like we really had something to prove. We didn’t perform like we were capable of and we were definitely upset by it.”
But soon after that loss to St. Joseph, Crayton started to feel healthy again.
“I started to feel better and get in the swing of things,” Crayton said. “It was like the start of my season.”
“He played through the pain,” Hansen said. “Anyone who plays running back knows that they’re never fully healthy. It’s the great ones who find a way to play through it. Jared cares so much about the team and the program that he played through the pain. Pound-for-pound, he’s the toughest hombre we have. He knows how to handle himself and that has led him to persevere.”
Since he has recovered fully from the shoulder and knee woes, Crayton has been an offensive juggernaut, rushing for better than 100 yards in five straight games.
Last Saturday, in a 68-6 thrashing of Memorial, Crayton carried the ball just four times for 110 yards and scored one touchdown on a 66-yard run. He also caught three passes for 86 yards, with all three receptions going for touchdowns, scoring on catches of 45, 17 and 24 yards respectively. So Crayton accounted for 196 yards of total offense and four scores. Safe to say he’s back.
And for his efforts, Crayton has been selected as The Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week.
“It’s always good to be able to showcase your talents like that,” Crayton said. “I want people to see and think that I’m a great player. It’s good to be able to show that I am. I’m as close to 100 percent as I’m going to be. I’m glad that we’ve redeemed ourselves for the first two losses.”
Hansen is overjoyed that Crayton has overcome everything and is now playing as he was expected to play.
“It’s his turn and he’s made the most of it,” Hansen said. “As a head coach, you appreciate kids like that, kids who are patient, who wait for their chance and then go with it. You root for a guy like Jared Crayton. He’s dealt with a lot and has come through it well.”
Crayton is now juggling offers from some good schools such as Bucknell and Temple.
“There was never any doubt he was a great player,” Hansen said. “We didn’t need him to have a great game like Saturday to prove that. He’s just made sure he’s done his job. He’s a good athlete who can do a multitude of things.”
“I just can’t wait for the next game,” Crayton said.
Bergen Catholic, the No. 2 team in the entire state, awaits next. Jared Crayton is more than ready. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached at OGSMAR@aol.com.