Griz senior Derek Crittenden is in fall camp, getting ready to finish his fifth full year at the University of Montana as a member of the football program.
In those five years, the defensive end has waited his turn to lead the team. He has waited and watched as other Griz defensive ends like Ryan Fetherston and Zack Wagenmann have gone on to represent UM on the world’s biggest stage in the NFL.
This season, Crittenden not only gets the opportunity to make his mark on the field, he also gets the opportunity to make his mark on the world’s biggest stage in the academic arena as this year’s UM nominee for the Rhodes Scholarship, “The oldest and most celebrated international fellowship awards in the world”, according to rhodesscholar.org.
“The Rhodes scholarship is almost unarguably the most prestigious award you can get in academics,” said the 6’ 3” 240lb Whitefish Bulldog. “It’s awesome to be on that stage, but now it’s like, I’ve really got to step my game up because I’m competing against the best of the best from across the country. So it’s game time now.”
That competitive streak has earned Crittenden a lot of accolades during his time as a Grizzly, including being named to four-consecutive Big Sky All-Academic teams, winning the prestigious President’s Award for highest student-athlete GPA four years running, and maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA as a chemistry major with minors in mathematics and philosophy.
“It allows my competitive nature to really take over I guess, just in a different way. Not on the field, but in the classroom.”
On the field, Crittenden’s competitive streak has earned the trust and respect of his peers, having been elected captain by his teammates (along with fellow senior Jamaal Jones), a first for the player who has seen plenty of snaps, but rarely given the starting nod.
“It’s awesome. It was a huge honor. I’ve been here for five and a half years. I know each of these guys on a very strong, individual basis. It was a huge honor and a huge accomplishment,” Crittenden said on his captaincy.
This same competitive spirit hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Montana coaching staff either. Griz defensive line coach Legi Suiaunoa has taught Crittenden the dark arts of the d-line since his arrival on campus in 2011. To him Crittenden earning the title of captain was something he expected.
“I think he’s always been a captain,” said Suiaunoa. “I think he’s been a captain on this team since he set foot on campus because he didn’t go with the crowd, you know? Academics was important to him. He did things the way he wanted to and he stayed focused.”
It’s clear now that Crittenden is going to have a busy fall semester: football practice daily, keeping up that perfect 4.0 as a double major, and preparing to interview for a Rhodes Scholarship.
He will be given Montana’s nomination for the Rhodes Scholarship in October, putting him into a pool of 70 of the best students in the 14th US Rhodes District that includes Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon and Washington. From that pool, he will be in the running for one of 12 interview places. Of those 12, only two will actually earn a full scholarship to the famed Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar.
The interview process will be completed this fall. In addition to football and his class load, he’ll undergo mock interviews in preparation for the interview that could potentially exchange his maroon and silver for Oxford blue.
Montana English Professor Ashby Kinch serves as Crittenden’s Rhodes advisor and is helping the scholar athlete navigate the waters of the application process.
“For Derek to be doing what he’s doing, in a competitive division one sport that takes an incredible amount of time… and then do be 4.0 in one of the hardest disciplines on campus… It’s immensely impressive.”
It’s just a tremendously impressive personal character that has drawn him through that process, and I think the committee is going to see that. I hope they do.”
“The Rhodes Scholarship, it’s an incredible opportunity,” said Coach Suiaunoa. “For him to have that opportunity is obviously an honor for him. It’s an honor for us, and our team, and this program, and this University. It’s a big deal for him. Like I said, it doesn’t surprise me that he does it, because he’s earned it. Everything he’s going to get involved in, he’s going to go 100 percent.”
One hundred percent. If that level of dedication is a learned trait, Crittenden must have had a pretty good teacher.
“My grandpa always told me: ‘All things in moderation’. So I do football, I do school, and I sleep when I have some free time. And that’s about it.”
Get to know Derek Crittenden:
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
FAVORITE TV SHOW?
Rick and Morty
FAVORITE MUSICAL GROUP?
IF A MOVIE WERE MADE OF MY LIFE, I’D WANT THIS ACTOR TO PLAY ME:
THE PERSON IN HISTORY I’D MOST LIKE TO MEET?
FAVORITE SPORTS OTHER THAN FOOTBALL?
Baseball and ping-pong.
FAVORITE SPORTS FIGURE?
FAVORITE NFL TEAM?
Anything outdoors: folfing, fishing, hunting, and snowboarding.
MANY PEOPLE DON’T KNOW THIS ABOUT ME:
My life mentor is my Grandpa, Jim Crittenden.
ONE OF MY HIDDEN TALENTS IS:
THE BIGGEST “CHARACTER” ON THE TEAM IS:
He just has infinite energy and you never know how he is going to direct it.
MY GREATEST MOMENT IN SPORTS SO FAR IS:
Beating the cats last year at home.
IF I WEREN’T PLAYING FOR THE GRIZ, I’D BE:
Researching pharmaceutical drugs somewhere.
THE THING(S) I LIKE BEST ABOUT THE UNIVERSITY OF MONTANA IS:
MY FAVORITE THING ABOUT THE UM COACHES:
They really care about us…not only do they coach us to be successful on Saturdays, they also coach us to be successful in life.
THE REASON I CHOSE TO BE A GRIZ:
It was a childhood dream come true.
WHY I CHOSE MY MAJOR:
Because I want to figure out how the world works at the most fundamental materialistic level.
MY PLAN AFTER I GRADUATE IS:
Snowboard until Graduate School starts.
MY FUTURE GOALS ARE:
Short term: Get into graduate school.
Long term: Run a pharmaceutical company.