ATLANTA -- Spending time with three-star offensive lineman Delando Crooks is similar to trying to solve a Rubik’s Cube. You know that the parts all have to line up but you just can’t see how. The shy, soft-spoken giant with more than 40 offers seems too congenial to be an arm-breaking, face-stomping warrior of the trenches. But don’t let that fool you.
“He is not nice at all,” Carver head coach Darren Myles said. “He is totally different on the field. If you could take a peek at his face before game time, you could tell he has gone strictly into game mode. I would say war mode but he has never been to war. He knows how to flip the switch from being cordial in the school building throughout the day to being an animal on the field. By no means is he too nice.”
Crooks’ beastly style has garnered him more than three dozen offers, according to his uncle, Troy Vaccianna. Myles sees the transformation first-hand.
“Once he gets a hold of an opponent he keeps his legs driving until he finishes, whether that is pushing them down the field or driving them into the ground,” Myles said. “It is just one of those things where his anger comes out on the field. So he is nowhere near the type of person he is around the school building.”
If Crooks is a lion on the field, he is a lamb off of it.
“Delando is one of the most well-rounded athletes we have had come through Carver,” Myles said. “He epitomizes the word student-athlete. He has a 90 average in one of the most rigorous schools in the city of Atlanta. He already has 16 hours of college credits. He wants to get an engineering degree. But I tell him and the boys the folks in the stands didn’t come here to watch you take a test.”
Crooks was born in Jamaica and moved to the states with his mother. She died from cancer and Crooks went to live with his uncle. There he learned the game off football from his cousins and started playing just a few years ago. Hard work took the out-of-shape youngster into one of the top college prospects in the state.
“The coaches that come through here say he is still a little raw, but the love his athleticism and most of them say he is capable of playing on Sundays,” Myles said.
Crooks is determined to get to the NFL but in the meantime he likes to use his new found celebrity to help others. He consistently talks up his teammates to college coaches that come to see him. He also wants to take on the disease that ravaged his family. Crooks wants to raise money for charity through the Coaches Curing Kids Cancer foundation. He wants the proceeds from one of the Carver games to be given to the group, along with whatever other money can be raised.
“He came to me with a proposal about two weeks ago,” Myles said. “He came to me and said, ‘Coach, I want to pick one of the games if that is all right with you to do a Coaches Curing Cancer deal.’ I said it would be fine. We can pick one of our home games and get permission from Lakewood or Grady and tell them this is what we are trying to do for this game. He said, ‘I am quite sure they will agree to that.’ ”
Myles did have a caveat though.
“I said, ‘Since this is what you want to do we will support it, but you are going to do the front work. This will be your platform. When people ask us we are going to say this is something that you came up with wanting to do and that you put the work in to do. Now you can put whoever you want together and solicit some help, but I don’t want you sitting back saying this is what we are doing while others do the work.’ ”
The idea warmed Myles heart.
“I thought that was awesome,” Myles said. “That was about the most awesome thing I have heard since I had Inky Johnson who played for me at Crim High school and went to Tennessee.”
A comparison to Inquoris “Inky” Johnson -- who mentors underprivileged youth in Atlanta -- is not to be taken lightly. Myles insists that Crooks is made of the same material. He compares Crooks’ desire to have a charity game to a question that Johnson asked on the recruiting trail.
“I was sitting Inky in the office and Phillip Fulmer was talking to him about football and the university. Inky turned to him and said, ‘Coach, what type of churches do you have there?’ Fulmer stopped and turned to his assistant coach and said, ‘I don’t think any recruit has ever asked me that.’ Delando is just that type of guy. He will help a parent with boxes or a teacher do whatever.
“But when he gets on that field, his face just changes. He has that look like ‘Let’s get it.’ ”