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June 3, 2012Tweet Follow @achiappazzi
Camdin Crouse needed a fishing vest.
At home in the small town of Snow Shoe, Pennsylvania in early May, the 24-year old Crouse was going to cap his visit with some time fishing. A former Bald Eagle Area high school and Robert Morris quarterback, Crouse was home helping his mother recuperate from back surgery while working the recruiting trails in central and eastern Pennsylvania.
Due back in Pittsburgh on Friday, May 4, Crouse and a friend wanted to cast their lines one last time.
"It's one of my hobbies, being from a redneck area," Crouse cracked.
So, in need of a vest, Crouse's father handed him his grandfather's vest. Crouse's grandfather passed in 2009 and had left him the vest. As Crouse checked the various pockets and began loading up on supplies, he made a discovery.
"It was a black rope, and I was like, 'Wow, this is the oldest fishing stringer I've ever seen," Crouse said. "I kept it in there because it was my grandfather's."
His grandfather's old fishing stringer may have saved Camdin Crouse's life.
Deep in central Pennsylvania, Crouse and his friend rode a side-by-side four-wheeler to their fishing spot. They were a mile or two away from any back roads and passerby. As the two men fished, rain crept in with the darkness. The two left, traveling around 25-30 miles per hour, below the machine's peak capacity, on a state maintained gravel trail. As the rain fell, a tree branch crashed in front of them. They swerved around it, and as they tried to accelerate past, the four-wheeler hydroplaned and wrecked.
"I didn't feel anything," Crouse said. "The first thing I did was yell at my friend to make sure he was okay."
Crouse was getting his bearings when his friend came running up and started screaming. Crouse had a compound fracture in his left leg.
"He didn't know what to do because we were so deep in the woods," Crouse said.
With the rain falling hard, Crouse dug in his vest for his grandfather's fishing stringer to use as a tourniquet. His friend helped him into the four-wheeler, and the two prayed it would start again after the accident.
"Magically the thing started," Crouse said.
The two slowly drove out of the woods to an old back road, where a good Samaritan saw them and put Crouse in the back of his pickup truck. The man drove Crouse to a nearby friend's house as Crouse fought to stay conscious. It wasn't the pain so much as everything else around him.
"It was more like a numb sensation. It was more of a mental thing," Crouse said. "I'm afraid to death of blood and that kind of thing. So I wouldn't look at it."
It took 25 minutes for an ambulance to arrive, and another 25 minutes until a helicopter arrived to take him to a hospital in Altoona.
It would take 14 procedures, 20 units of blood, 47 pounds, two amputations and 27 days before Crouse would return home to Snow Shoe.
Crouse was not a heralded prospect coming out of Bald Eagle Area High School in 2006. But he was good enough to get a shot at quarterback in Joe Walton's offense at Robert Morris. Crouse earned a spot start as a sophomore and served as the primary backup as a junior. His senior year was supposed to be his chance to shine. Instead, he lost the quarterback battle coming out of camp to fellow senior Desmond Brentley. Both eventually gave way to freshman Jeff Sinclair.
"We were kind of pushing Jeff to get playing time and learn how to play the position, and I thought Cam handled it beautifully," Walton recalled. "He helped Jeff as much as he could."
Crouse ended up playing in 12 games over four years, completing 45-of-82 passes for 562 yards and four touchdowns.
"My career didn't go as well as I wanted at Robert Morris," he said. "I had my ups and downs, but it's still the best four years, and all my friends and camaraderie made me stick with it."
He also developed a penchant for rallying Robert Morris his senior year as a substitute. He helped Robert Morris rally from a 24-10 deficit against Bucknell before falling 26-23, but his most dramatic performance was in Albany. Crouse came on in relief of Sinclair, completed 6-of-7 passes for 90 yards, and led Robert Morris to a game-winning field goal (highlights below).
"Jeff was struggling a little bit and I sent Cam in and he did a hell of a job," Walton said.
Crouse stayed on as a student assistant, helping to tutor Sinclair and a new batch of quarterbacks. He's now in his second year as the quarterback coach and video coordinator.
"There's a lot of nights that I don't get any sleep during the season, and if I get any sleep, it's on Coach Walton's coach," Crouse said.
It's the typical life of a college coach, especially a small Division I school. Crouse has now been gone from Robert Morris for a month, and he's had to teach his fellow coaches how to handle some of the extra video assignments via phone.
"All of the guys up there are ripping their hair out because they don't know how to do that technical stuff," Crouse said.
Throughout the conversation, Crouse's voice is full of strength and confidence. But it wavers ever so slightly when he talks about making it back to Robert Morris. The desire to coach his quarterbacks, including two incoming freshmen, is just that strong. He has to keep them in line, and the only way to do that is to get back to Moon Township.
"Especially Sinclair with his wild personality," Crouse quips. "Gotta keep him in check. He's been in touch with me. He wants me there for his senior year, doesn't want to do it without me."
Inside the Altoona hospital on May 3, Crouse was in good spirits. Accidents deep in the country can be risky, even with modern technology.
"I was more or less thankful to be alive," Crouse said. "I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't really think they were going to have to amputate my leg or anything. I was more in a joking manner, pretty much being myself."
Altoona couldn't do much with his leg, which needed constant cleaning and deeper analysis. Crouse was helicoptered to Geisinger Medical Center in Danville, Pa. 122 miles away. For over a week in Danville, doctors cleaned his leg and tried to find a pulse in his foot. Though one subtly emerged, there was too much dead tissue.
Doctors amputated his left leg below the knee on May 14. As his 24th birthday neared on May 21, Crouse saw the exit from Danville coming.
"I was day-to-day until I started to get a fever and they didn't know what it was from," Crouse said.
On his birthday, doctors found an infection in his leg. He went into septic shock, convulsing and shivering uncontrollably.
"It was scary. I couldn't tell what was going on," he said. "I woke up and there's like nine doctors around me, sticking needles in my arm. The next thing I know they're taking me to ICU."
He was in intensive care for four days, as doctors moved the amputation higher up the leg, this time above the knee. Crouse was wired constantly in the ICU, with a blood pressure monitor on his arm, stickers on his chest with wires measuring his vitals, and the constant presence of needle-toting nurses.
"I felt like a voodoo doll," he said.
The infection subsided. He began rehab, began regaining strength in his upper body. On Wednesday, May 30, he was sent home.
"The doc came in around 8 a.m., looked at my stump, and said I was way ahead of schedule," Crouse said. "It was an emotional day after spending 27 days in the hospital."
Home in Snow Shoe once again, Crouse vows he'll be back on the sideline for training camp in early August. If not by then, he'll certainly be back for the season opener on September 1 at defending FCS champion North Dakota State.
The road won't be easy. But Crouse said the support he's received has lit a fire under him. Family and friends set up a website - helpcamdin.com - to ask for donations. Crouse's medical insurance will only cover $5,000 of the $55,000 price tag for his permanent prosthetic leg. He also has a mountain of other medical bills. An anonymous donor pledged to match every dollar donated through May 27; Crouse's family and friends raised $49,000 and the donor will match every cent. Walton donated $10,000 from his annual charity golf tournament, as well as a personal donation.
"A lot of my friends who came to the golf tournament and everything rallied around him, too," Walton said. "We've had a great response, so I think he's in pretty good shape financially."
Crouse received a donation and a signed picture from former NFL tight end Gene Heeter, a friend of Walton's who caught the first touchdown pass at Shea Stadium. Former teammates are in touch constantly - linebacker Alex DiMichele, playing professionally in Italy, sends Crouse daily inspirational messages - and that has helped keep his spirits up.
"There's been a couple days where I've asked, 'Why me?' But I came to the conclusion that's the devil trying to bring me down. As a Christian, I can always face that and take the best from this," Crouse said. "There's nothing I could do. I've always been a positive person. I took it as this was my calling. This was what God had planned for me, so I've got to make the best of it."
Crouse has been so overwhelmed by the support that once his medical bills are covered, he'll turn helpcamdin.com into the Camdin Crouse Foundation. Crouse said the foundation has already been legally constructed, and he'll use his platform to raise money for others in similar situations and other pet causes.
"People I don't even know are sending me messages, saying I'm inspiring them. It makes me want to go out and continue," Crouse said. "If I'm inspiring them now, wait until I get a leg on and I can go out and be more persistent."
Crouse said the foundation and his future role as a public speaker wasn't a long-term goal, but it made too much sense after the accident.
"It just all of a sudden came to me. You never really think you're going to have something this tragic happen," he said. "I'm very fortunate to have played college football, coach at a small Division I school, have a lot of friends, good family. There are certain things where people don't have this sort of blessing."
Crouse has miles of rehab ahead of him. He'll get a temporary prosthesis in the next few weeks, which he'll use until the permanent one arrives in 9-to-12 months. But he's already planning appearances to coincide with his return to the sideline. Kevin Quinn, a former teammate now working with the AFL's Pittsburgh Power, set up a deal for the Power's home game on June 16. Robert Morris students can buy a $20 ticket, with $10 going to Crouse. Crouse will meet with owner Lynn Swann and other members of the organization.
Crouse also plans on finishing his master's degree this summer, all in the hopes that he'll be coaching again in the fall.
"I can't wait. It's definitely pushing me," Crouse said. "Just being back in there with the guys, teaching, being a part of the team is what I miss most and what's going to strive me to be there come August and September."
There seems to be little doubt in anyone's mind that Crouse will return. Walton said the ability to put his focus on something like the foundation is a huge step.
"I think that's kind of taken over his thinking now, which is very positive and good," Walton said. ""I think he's going to make it back. I really believe that. He might not be as good yet with his prosthetic leg as he'd like to be, but he's still got his mind. He's still pretty good at what he does. There's no doubt in my mind that he's going to help us and he'll be back."
After any tragedy, there's always doubt. Psychologists developed the five stages of grief because of the patterns that emerge after traumatic experiences: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.
Crouse sprinted through the first four and is now at stage five. If he can just step onto the field at Joe Walton Stadium once more, all will be right again in his mind.
"It's been the past seven years of my life. Robert Morris football is my rock. It's everything that means to me other than my family and friends," Crouse said. "I'm lucky to be alive. I'm lucky to have all these donations, and I just want to pass on the faith."
ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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