Randy York’s N-Sider
Sometimes, it takes a banquet to document history, and that’s what happened Friday night when I interviewed George Darlington, who had just watched three of his former defensive backs inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame. In a private dinner at Nebraska’s West Stadium Club, former Husker DBs Reggie Cooper, Keyuo Craver and Russell Gary joined offensive lineman John Havekost in NU's 2013 Hall-of-Fame induction class.
Darlington gave me some quick comments about all three DBs and remembered Craver as a great athlete who was recruited by Nebraska’s track and field program. “Truth be known, we didn’t know anything about Keyuo Craver,” Darlington told me. “In 1997, Gary Pepin called me in the middle of the week and said: ‘I just got off the phone with a kid named Keyuo Craver and he said you all aren’t even recruiting him.’” Sure enough, the name didn’t register with Darlington, who was a Nebraska assistant coach for 30 years. The longtime aide coached 30 Husker players who went on to play in the NFL, including seven All-Americans, one of whom was Craver.
Pepin Told Darlington, Who Told Gill and So On …
Pepin, the all-time winningest track and field coach in Big 12 and former Big Eight Conference history and a Hall-of-Famer in his own specialized sport, had instant credibility with and mutual respect for Tom Osborne and his football coaching staff. “Did you know this kid is a 50-foot triple jumper, and he has all kinds of coaches recruiting him in football?” Pepin asked Darlington in his customary straightforward style. Darlington did not know that, but he talked to Turner Gill, Nebraska’s most pivotal recruiter in the Lone Star State.
“Turner didn’t know anything about Keyuo because he lived way out there in East Texas and most people were recruiting him as a track athlete first,” Darlington said. “I know this. If Pepin hadn’t called me, we never even would have recruited him, let alone convinced him to sign.” Yes, Pepin is a track and field legend and now, Craver is an official Nebraska football legend. And this is where the story of one Hall-of-Fame legend getting credit for another Hall-of-Fame legend gets interesting. After hearing Darlington’s comments following Friday night’s banquet, I talked to Craver again and asked him about his recollections of Nebraska recruiting him.
Nebraska Did Not Want to Take ‘No’ for an Answer
“When Nebraska recruited me, I came up to Lincoln and met with Dennis Leblanc (Nebraska’s Senior Associate Athletic Director for Academics),” he recalled. “I met with Coach Pepin and all the football coaches. I remember they pretty much were not going to take no for an answer, so I just did it – committed to Nebraska before I flew back home.”
I asked Craver where he would have gone if he didn’t commit to Nebraska. “Oklahoma,” he said. “They wanted me for both sports. So did A&M, UT (Texas), Florida State, Baylor and almost all the other schools that contacted me.” Craver remembers taking an unofficial visit to Baylor on the same October weekend that Nebraska played in Waco in 1997, Osborne’s final season as Nebraska’s head coach. “Nebraska beat the crap out of Baylor that day,” Craver said. In a word, that’s an understatement. NU led Baylor 42-7 at halftime of a game that featured Ahman Green scoring four first-half touchdowns, including 58-yard and 30-yard TD runs in the second quarter. “I was at Baylor for an unofficial visit, but I just fell in love with Nebraska that day, even though I’d never heard a word from them and they weren’t even recruiting me,” Craver said.
He Fell in Love Just Watching Huskers Warm Up
Craver remembers how impressed he was just watching Nebraska warm up at Baylor. It was unlike watching anyone else – precise, focused, fundamentally sound in every aspect. “I thought to myself, ‘These guys are like machines’ and a week later, I got a letter in the mail. I remember saying to myself: ‘Thanks, Lord. If time is destiny, this is it, right here.’ The minute I received that letter, I decided I wasn’t going to let an opportunity like this one pass me by.” I ask Craver what else he remembers. “I remember how the letter said they wanted to see film on me, and to me, the rest is history,” he said. I ask him if he knows how Nebraska “discovered” him. Curiously, he did not have an answer for that question. I then tell him that he was never even on Nebraska’s radar until Gary Pepin called George Darlington on the phone. “Coach Pep called Coach Darlington?” he asked. “Yes,” I said. “Coach Darlington just told me that a couple minutes ago. He said the football staff had never even heard of you until Coach Pepin called.”
“Wow!” Craver said. “Coach Pep is the reason Nebraska recruited me for football? I had no idea … no idea whatsoever that something like that happened ... Unbelieveable!”
Big Item on His to Do List: Call and Thank Pepin
Shaking his head as he prepares to take the elevator down with family members who just saw him inducted into the Nebraska Football Hall of Fame, Craver said he knows what he has to do as soon as possible. “I will call Coach Pep,” he said, “and I will thank him for what he did for me! Amazing! He’s the reason I was here tonight, and I didn’t even know it.” In 2001, Keyuo (pronounced Key-Oh) Craver, a 5-11, 190-pound cornerback from Harleton, Texas, earned First-Team All-America honors from both The Sporting News and The Football News. He was a captain for a Nebraska team that played Miami in a national championship game in the Rose Bowl. Craver went on to spend three NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints and four more in the Canadian Football League, two in Edmonton and two in Winnipeg.
Craver retired from football three years ago, and 16 years after his extraordinary recruitment to Nebraska, he knows the rest of the story. Simply put, it’s a bit of a fairy tale where one legend (Pepin) finally gets credit for another (Craver) … a truly unique case where one Hall-of-Famer did a huge favor for another without him even knowing it … until now.
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