Thornton Academy quarterback Austin McCrum rolls out on a pass during last weekend’s state championship game against Portland. McCrum has been selected as the Journal Tribune’s co-Most Valuable Player along with his teammate Greg Ruff.

Thornton Academy quarterback Austin McCrum rolls out on a pass during last weekend’s state championship game against Portland. McCrum has been selected as the Journal Tribune’s co-Most Valuable Player along with his teammate Greg Ruff.

Football is the ultimate team game as 11 players need to do their job on every play in order for the team to succeed. The Thornton Academy Golden Trojans proved that theory this season as they captured their second straight state championship with a 24-14 win over Portland last weekend.

Thornton Academy running back Greg Ruff turns the corner on a long run during a game earlier this season. Ruff has been named as one of the Journal Tribune’s Most Valuable Players for the 2015 season.

Thornton Academy running back Greg Ruff turns the corner on a long run during a game earlier this season. Ruff has been named as one of the Journal Tribune’s Most Valuable Players for the 2015 season.

Two players on the TA roster – quarterback Austin McCrum and running back Greg Ruff – led the way for the Golden Trojans, who would have been a very different team if either one was not on the field.

McCrum threw for nearly 2,000 yards and tossed 20 touchdowns this season, while Ruff racked up 1,420 yards and 20 scores – and both showed up big during the Trojans’ state title run.

In the Class A South semifinal and final games, Ruff carried the Trojans with an incredible 499 yards on the ground and three touchdowns.

“He certainly put us on his back,” said TA coach Kevin Kezal of Ruff ’s impressive two-game stretch in the playoffs.

Then, in last Saturday’s state final, McCrum would be the one to carry the Trojans.

“Going into that (regional final), you have a 30-milean hour wind and you have to rely on the run game and Greg takes off. This past week, Portland sees Greg the past two weeks run for close to 500 yards in two games, they are going to load the box and take that away,” said Kezal. “Austin threw the ball for 137 yards in the game, but he also rushed for 72 yards, and he scored the touchdown that kind of sealed the game.”

The standout QB also tossed seven passes for first downs, which was crucial since the TA running game was struggling to gain traction.

“We had a hard time running the ball and he basically made throws to get us first downs, which was huge,” said Kezal. Kezal was thrilled to have two players who could take control of a game this season.

“That was the great thing about this team, we had so many ways we could beat people. One week it’s Austin and the next it’s Greg,” said Kezal, who also mentioned senior wide receiver Ben Lambert’s big game in the state final, which included a punt return for a touchdown.

Heading into this season, McCrum was not going to surprise anyone as he had already made a name for himself from his sophomore year and especially his junior campaign where he helped the Trojans win a state title.

Kezal believes that even though McCrum was already one of the best players in the state, the standout QB grew a lot between his junior and senior seasons.

“I think he became more of a student of the game … just those nuances of the game, the reads and understanding where you need to go with the ball, just becoming more of a student of the game,” said Kezal.

The standout also didn’t rely on the gifts he was born with. “No. 1 is just his natural athletic ability, he’s 6-foot-4, he’s 225 (pounds),” said Kezal, who said McCrum’s work ethic was a huge part of his success. “He worked extremely hard in the offseason to be ready – he was a workout warrior. He’s smart, he’s just the whole package.”

For Ruff, opposing teams definitely knew who he was when it came to the defensive side of the ball as he came in as a two-year starter. But this would be the first year he would be called on to start on the offensive of the ball – and he shattered all expectations.

“Greg’s been a three-year starter for us on defense, but this was his first as a (running back), and to start the year he was basically splitting reps,” said Kezal.

Midway through the season, TA running back Michael Laverriere got nicked up and that meant Ruff would get the bulk of the workload. That turned out to be a good thing for him and the Trojans’ offense.

“Greg kind of grabbed the bull by the horns and had a great second half of the season,” said Kezal.

Ruff, who also finished the season with 43 tackles, three fumble recoveries and one interception on defense, showed versatility at the running back spot, according to Kezal. “He’s quick to the hole. He hits the hole really fast, but he’s able to run physical if he needs to and he has decent speed, so he can pop one and go,” said Kezal.

Both standouts will be headed to the next level as McCrum will play football at Division I Lafayette College and Ruff heads to SUNY Plattsbrugh to play lacrosse.

Kezal believes Lafayette is getting a quarterback who will continue to get better.

“He’s an intelligent kid. He can make all the throws, he can throw the deep ball well, he can throw the underneath stuff. Truly, I think his best athletic and academic years are still ahead of them,” said Kezal.

Even though Ruff won’t be playing football in college, Kezal believes his work ethic will lead him to be successful in any endeavor.

“Greg is an absolute workout warrior in the weight room, he has phenomenal strength. He is just a hard working kid, he’s polite and he’s going to give you everything he has,” said Kezal.

Sports Editor Pat McDonald can be reached at [email protected] or at 282-1535 ext. 322. Follow the Journal Tribune Sports Department on Twitter @ JournalTsports.


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