Wednesday, January 03, 2007

There’s no time like present for Krenzel

National title-winning QB treasures his family, faith as football sits on hold

January 03, 2007

Dennis Fiely

Too young for nostalgia, Craig Krenzel has little interest in reliving his glory days. Four years ago, the quarterback led Ohio State University to the school’s most recent national championship — its first in 34 years.

Yet there is no evidence of his accomplishment, or of his stellar collegiate career, in his four-bedroom Delaware County home.

"It’s all in storage," Krenzel said of the hardware he accumulated during 27 games (a 24-3 record) as a Buckeye starter.

Although he still harbors aspirations of returning to professional football, the 25-year-old husband and father is of the moment.

A sign in his kitchen summarizes his priorities simply: "Faith, family and friends."

He has not seen a replay of the Buckeyes’ 31-24 national-title victory over Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, in which he was named the most valuable player.

"I tried to watch it with some of the guys a couple of weeks after the game, but I didn’t pay much attention to it," he said. "We ended up playing cards and hanging out."

At Ohio State, Krenzel is neither gone nor forgotten.

He played with the 17 fifthyear seniors on the 2006 team "and took them to the promised land," head coach Jim Tressel said.

Tressel named Krenzel honorary captain for this season’s Cincinnati game and confirmed that his old quarterback has studied game film with current quarterback Troy Smith.

Krenzel, typically, downplayed his contribution.

"It’s not worth mentioning," he said. "Troy has done it on his own."

Yet nobody is rooting harder than Krenzel for Smith and his Buckeye teammates to beat Florida for the national title Monday night.

Craig Krenzel, who led OSU to the national title in 2003, relishes family time with his wife, Beth, and their 11-month-old son, Brayden, in Delaware County.

"I hope they win it again this year so Troy can have what I have, and I can sit back with my wife and raise my family," said Krenzel, uncomfortable with the public attention he continues to receive.

His glory days are now.

"I wake up every day and thank the Lord for all he has given me," Krenzel said.

He shares a comfortable suburban life with his wife, college sweetheart Beth (Barr) of Dublin, and their 11-monthold son, Brayden.

An OSU graduate in molecular genetics who won the 2003 Draddy Award as college football’s premier studentathlete, Krenzel bypassed medical school to fall in line with other ex-Buckeyes.

He recently joined the realestate firm of Crawford Hoying (co-owned by Bobby Hoying, another former OSU quarterback and Draddy winner) and signed an endorsement deal with Buckeye Nissan.

He also is finishing his first year as a college-football analyst for WTVN (610 AM).

"He’s a real workingman now," his wife said.

Krenzel’s decision not to enroll in medical school was a bit of a disappointment to his father.

"It came as a surprise," said Allen Krenzel, a retired accountant and math teacher. "I started thinking, ‘I hope this is not a great mind going to waste.’ I thought maybe he could achieve something in medicine that hadn’t been achieved yet."

The experiences of older brother Brian, a fourth-year resident in orthopedic surgery at Duke University Medical Center, helped direct Craig’s career path.

"If he went to med school, he’d be in his 30s when he finished and be looking at five more years of training," Brian Krenzel said. "Craig wants to have more children, and I don’t think he wants to be away from his family for that extent."

Besides, football still beckons.

Krenzel works daily with a physical therapist at OSU, rehabilitating a surgically reconstructed right elbow injured last year while training with the Cincinnati Bengals.

He originally was drafted in 2004 by the Chicago Bears, winning his first three games as a starter before an ankle injury ended his season.

His future in the National Football League "depends on how my rehab goes," Krenzel said.

Even if it goes well, he acknowledged, "there may be no interest in me."

"I still want to win a Super Bowl and be a Hall of Famer, but I am preparing for never being able to play again. I am moving on with my life. I don’t want to be sitting here a year from now trying to figure out what to do if I can’t play football."

John Cooper, a Bengals consultant and the OSU coach who recruited Krenzel out of Henry Ford II High School in Sterling Heights, Mich., thinks a healthy Krenzel can succeed in the NFL.

"I wonder why he isn’t still playing for the Bears," Cooper said. "It looks to me like they could use a quarterback."

Regardless, Buckeye fans have enshrined Krenzel as a legend. They lined up at Buckeye Nissan last month to score his signature on Krenzel jerseys, dolls and magazine covers.

"You can mention his name with Janowicz, Cassady, Kern and Griffin," said Jeff Hohenbrink, 31, of Galena, one of the recent autograph-seekers. "Most people would kill for his combination of intelligence and athletic ability."

These days, Krenzel keeps the wins and losses in perspective.

Fans who can’t are sources of consternation for him.

"When I meet a middle-aged man who thanks me, in front of his 7-year-old son, for the greatest night of his life, I wonder what message that child is receiving. The boy might be thinking, ‘What about the day we went fishing together or the day you and Mommy got married?’ "

Krenzel and Smith arrived at the same destination in the Arizona desert through drastically different routes.

Smith was raised in the inner city by a single mother and, for a time, foster parents, but Krenzel grew up in a middle-class Detroit suburb with a stay-at-home mother.

"We lived in a Colonialstyled house, had our own bedrooms, 2 1 /2 baths and two cars in the garage," Brian Krenzel said.

Allen and Debbie Krenzel defined family values by staying actively involved in the lives of their three children, including daughter Krysten, born between the boys.

"I see these kids now who live in $500,000 homes and drive brand-new cars and wonder, ‘Where are their parents?’ " said Mrs. Krenzel, a support-staff employee at Eisenhower High School in Shelby Township, Mich.

"How did they miss so much of their children’s lives, and why are their children such monsters? "

Immediately after Craig’s high-school games on Fridays, the Krenzels typically packed their car and drove all night — more than 700 miles — to watch Brian play football on Saturday afternoons for Duke University in Durham, N.C.

Krenzel’s devotion to family surfaced at Ohio State when he missed the San Jose State game (rescheduled in 2001 from Sept. 15 to Oct. 20 after the terrorist attack) to attend his sister’s wedding, which had been planned.

"There was no question in his mind that he was supposed to be there," Brian Krenzel said.

With his near-photographic memory, Craig Krenzel breezed through high school an A student and managed the rigors of football and molecular genetics in college.

"The way his mind works is unbelievable," Beth Krenzel said. "We are hoping the kids get his brains."

The news media regularly portrayed Krenzel as the Buckeyes’ team "braniac," sometimes at the expense of his athletic ability.

"I loved it," he said, "because it brought positive attention to the team, the university and college football in general.

"How often do you hear about the academic successes of a football team? All you hear about are arrests, drug tests and suspensions."

At Crawford Hoying, Krenzel has proved to be a quick study in crunching numbers and analyzing deals.

"He’s a natural," said company founder Brent Crawford, whose stable of ex-Buckeye athletes includes Greg Frey, Rick Smith and Brad Hosket. "We have been talking to him about coming here for a year.

"The competitive edge from athletes is a huge asset for us, and his math background in science brings a lot to the table," Crawford continued. "Our business is all about numbers and making money."

More surprising is Krenzel’s work at WTVN, given his disdain for a sports media that he says is too negative.

Krenzel once told a Dispatch sportswriter that he had "higher aspirations" than broadcasting.

"No way would he ever criticize a player, but he is not afraid to speak his mind," WTVN sports director Matt McCoy said. "As much love as he has for Tressel, I was especially impressed when he criticized the game plan in the second half of the Illinois game."

Krenzel was a multisport star at Henry Ford II High, where his number was retired last year on "Craig Krenzel Night." His high-school and college football jerseys hang in the school gym.

"He is the most honored athlete to come out of our school by far," said Jim Barker, his basketball coach at Ford.

Given his youth, Krenzel is what mystics might call an "old soul" — mature beyond his years.

"Craig is not the typical 25-year-old," his mother said. "Most of his friends aren’t even married yet. He is very serious these days."

Active in the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and other faith-based groups, Krenzel, a Roman Catholic, has a squeaky-clean reputation.

"He was a typical teenager, definitely no angel in high school," said Barker, who also was Krenzel’s health and physical-education teacher. "He never got into serious trouble; it was nickel-and-dime stuff.

"But he loved to have fun in class. I don’t know if he was ever academically challenged in high school."

His demeanor changed during college.

"He became more guarded," his brother said. "There are three people in Ohio under constant scrutiny: the governor, the Ohio State football coach and the Ohio State quarterback, and I’m not sure if they’re in that order."

Krenzel’s lighter side emerges when he is playing with his son; bantering with colleague Earle Bruce, the former OSU coach, on the air; or relaxing privately with friends.

The "old soul" maintains friendships on equal footing with elders such as Barker; his high-school football coach Terry Copacia; and 1968 OSU championship quarterback Rex Kern, with whom Krenzel often is compared.

"To me, his legacy is a little bit like Rex Kern," Tressel said. "Neither of them have a bunch of records, but they had the things that really make a quarterback."

Krenzel frequently talks to his mentors by phone. Barker and Copacia attended his wedding in May 2004.

Kern became something of a good-luck charm for Krenzel during Krenzel’s rookie year in the NFL.

"Every time I called him, he moved up the depth chart for the Bears," Kern said. "Before long he was starting, and his first pass for a starter went for a touchdown."

Kern and Krenzel commissioned a limited-edition print of the two championship quarterbacks together to benefit Miracle for Madison, Krenzel’s pet charity.

Named after 9-year-old Madison Reed, of Dublin, the organization raises research money for spinal muscular atrophy, the No. 1 genetic killer for children younger than 2.

"I couldn’t ask for a better friend for our cause," said Dublin Coffman High School teacher Carl Reed, Madison’s father. "He’s been to all of our events, and one day he invited me over to his house to go through some of his stuff for auction."

Krenzel has talked to his wife about taking advantage of his local fame to establish a charitable foundation, but that’s all part of a future that remains both on track and uncertain.

Krenzel described two guiding principles in his life: "to consider the worst-case scenario of any situation or decision, and to be able to adjust on the fly."

They are exactly the philosophies by which he played cautious, mistake-free football — emphatically punctuated by his ability to improvise for the big play.

"Nobody converted more third and fourth downs than Craig Krenzel," Cooper said. "All he did was win games."

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