OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Eric Crouch is giving pro football yet another try.
The 2001 Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback from Nebraska is among 70 players participating in a minicamp this week for his hometown Omaha Nighthawks of the United Football League.
Crouch was a 2002 third-round NFL draft choice of the St. Louis Rams. The Rams projected him as a receiver, and he walked out of training camp and announced his retirement after not being given a chance at quarterback.
He hasn’t played since 2006, when he was a quarterback for three games with the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts. Since then the 32-year-old has run a playground equipment company and sold medical supplies in Omaha and done some broadcasting.
“I don’t think I’ll ever get football 100 percent out of my system,” Crouch said Wednesday. “I don’t think that will ever happen. Maybe it will. I know I’m going to be a little bit rusty and I’ll be a little bit behind. I feel I can go in and help the team win.”
Crouch has been working out with former Nebraska players in Lincoln in recent weeks, but didn’t decide until Tuesday to accept the Nighthawks’ invitation.
“I think Eric recognizes he hasn’t played in a while and he’s rusty,” Nighthawks coach Joe Moglia said. “He’s done a great job of keeping in shape. He’s not in game shape. But at the end of the day, there wouldn’t be the remotest chance Eric would be doing this unless he was taking it seriously and wanting to truly give this his very, very best shot.”
The UFL is entering its third year as a haven for players who were cut in NFL training camps and veterans who want to get back to the NFL.
The 2010 Nighthawks featured Pro Bowlers in Jeff Garcia, Cato June and Ahman Green, as well as former Ohio State star Maurice Clarett. Garcia and Green no longer are on the roster, and Moglia acknowledged that the addition of Crouch would be good for public relations.
Crouch grew up and played high school football in Omaha before becoming Nebraska’s third Heisman Trophy winner. After leaving St. Louis, Crouch tried out with the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs and played a season in NFL Europe before landing in Canada.
“Since leaving Nebraska,” he said, “it’s been a less-than-stellar professional career, hopping from team to team, league to league, having injuries and uncertainty,” he said.
The other quarterbacks in the Nighthawks’ minicamp are last year’s backup, D.J. Shockley out of Georgia, and rookie Jeremiah Masoli, formerly of Oregon and Mississippi.
Crouch said the seven practices over four days will tell him how much he still wants to play, and whether the Nighthawks want to invite him to training camp next month.
Unlike other UFL players, Crouch isn’t looking to play in the NFL. Married with two young children, Crouch said he wants to play the sport he loves in the city where he lives.
“I’m a very competitive person and I’ve never yet won a championship — little league, high school, college or professionally,” he said. “There’s something about being on a championship football team. That still drives me. Maybe it sounds quirky, but that’s the competitive drive in me.”
Crouch expects to be mocked for trying to revive his football career again.
“I’m really not concerned too much with how people will perceive my decision,” he said. “Life is short and you have to enjoy what you’re doing.”