Playing at Alabama’s Bryant-Denney Stadium was the highlight of Derrick Craine’s freshman season at Chattanooga. (Jeff Hurndon Photography)
McDONOUGH — Derrick Craine is arguably one of the most beloved Union Grove athletes to come through the school in the last few years. He’s also one of the better high school running backs to come through the Southern Crescent in quite some time.
Craine was football’s version of a utility player for the 2012 Wolverines who went 10-2 and advanced to the quarterfinals of last year’s state playoffs. Besides rushing for 2,000-plus yards last season, Craine also found time to plug holes at linebacker and flip field position as the Wolverines’ punter.
Now, Craine has just completed his first season as a true freshman running back at UT-Chattanooga where he rushed for 201 yards on 44 carries and two touchdowns. Henry Daily Herald sportswriter Gabriel Stovall took a few moments to talk with Craine on his first season with the Mocs, his highlight moments as a freshman and his plans to better himself as a college tailback.
Question: I could probably guess, but I’ll ask anyway. What was the highlight of your season?
Answer: “The highlight was definitely playing at Alabama. It was a dream come true, being that ’Bama was my favorite team growing up.”
Question: What was it like when you first stepped out on that historic field?
Answer: “When I first walked out and saw all the fans and stuff, my legs got a little shaky. It was hard to believe that my dream of playing against the No. 1 team in the nation was finally becoming real. Looking out and seeing all the fans across the field and in the stands, and then seeing Alabama on the other side, it was just an unreal experience for me as a person and a player. Not every college player gets to say they got the chance to play against Alabama.”
Question: Did you take a clump of turf or something with you back home as a souvenir?
Answer: “No. But I do have a lot of pictures in my cellphone.”
Question: What was the biggest difference you noted between the college and high school game?
Answer: “The thing I noticed that was different was the game speed. It was really about getting to up to (Chattanooga’s) speed of the game. Through high school, and even in camp, a lot of times I’d just kind of run the ball, and you could do a lot of juking around before you hit the hole. In college, you can’t second guess yourself. You just have to hit the hole and go, because if you don’t whatever you just saw will be gone fast. It was kind of like that with the Bama game. But once we caught up with their speed, it was just like playing another team from the South.”
Question: You scored your first two touchdowns of your collegiate career this year. Tell me about the first one:
Answer: “It was the second game of the season against Georgia State in the Georgia Dome. My senior offensive guard was up on the line, and before the play, he looked me in the eyes and said, ‘Get behind me and I’ll take you into the endzone.’ It was an outstanding moment for my career to begin that way. Getting in that game, getting touches and rhythm and scoring, and knowing my O-linemen had my back was huge.”
Question: What will you work on in the offseason to improve yourself as a college back?
Answer: “My speed as well as strength. Really, my top speed. Being able to get away from guys when I break through the holes, and secure six points on a 40 or 60 yard run when I have to. And also being able to drive the pile for short yardage situations for my team.”
Question: Did you get back to any Union Grove games this year, and what about their freshman tailback?
Answer: “I was only able to get back to the Locust Grove game. It was cool seeing my old teammates. They played lights out in that game. Seeing (Freshman Trevor Gear) do well gets me super excited. I love to see people have success. I will always encourage people to be the best they can. He’ll be fine. He’s young so he’s got some stuff to learn, but when he learns the ropes of high school and learns how to run, I see him doing great, and going somewhere big for college eventually.”
Question: How will you spend your Christmas break?
Answer: “Well, I don’t go back to school until Jan. 5. It’ll be lots of working out, training and relaxing with family and friends. All my friends that I was with in high school are gone, and we’re all scattered around. So being back home with them is going to be enjoyable. It kind of reminds me of summer before I went to Chattanooga. I enjoy their company.”