Salamanca Republican Press

Crist tabbed by Giants as ‘superstar of future’

EDITOR’S NOTE: The New York Daily News, the biggest U.S. newspaper, singled out Chuck Crist for a feature story in its sports section Friday. The former star athlete at Salamanca Central School, who is now a rookie with the New York Giants, is regarded by his coaches as “one of the game’s budding superstars, the Daily News reported. The article by Lynn Hudson carried the headline “Chuck Crist a superstar of the future for the Giants.”Alex Webster still thinks the Giants have a future this year. Coaches are paid to think that way, of course, and if Alex’s hope for a wild-card playoff berth proves as forlorn as it appears, then the future, as Mort Sahl used to say, lies ahead.

And there is a distant future for the Giants that may prove even more surprisingly rosy than their current 5-4 record would have sounded before the season began.

For Webster’s greatest satisfaction this year, outside of those five victories, has been the development of the young talent on the club, guys like John Mendenhall, Larry Jacobson and Joe Orduna.

Budding superstar

But the Giants’ biggest find this season may very likely be a young man who right now is in a more premature stage of his playing development, Chuck Crist, the 21-year-old rookie defensive back from Penn State.

Defensive coach Jim Garrett insists that he is not exaggerating when he says that Crist is one of the game’s budding superstars.

“He could be another Emlen Tunnell,” says Garrett, making the ultimate comparison for a defensive back, “and, believe me, I ought to know. I was a talent scout for four years.

“Crist has everything it takes to be one of the outstanding strong safeties in this league. He’s tough, intelligent, courageous, and he has a tremendous will to win.”

“We’re all high on him,” agrees Webster. “They don’t come any more aggressive than this kid.”

So why hasn’t the ‘next Emlen Tunnell’ been performing more in the defensive backfield, rather than just on the special teams?

Lacks experience

One of the reasons is Richmond Flowers “who has been playing some good football for us,” says Garrett. The other reason is Crist’s one weakness at this stage of his career, inexperience.

“All he needs,” says Garrett, “is the three or four years it takes to become an expert at the position. What’s hurting him most right now is that he’s not responding to coverage as quickly as he could, to decide is it a play-action pass or is it a running play.

“The one game we had where we could do any experimenting was against New Orleans and Dave Parks, the Saints’ tight end, turned him inside out.”

The reason Garrett know Crist won’t have many days like that is the youngster’s “great responsive reactions and good speed. He does the 40 in 4.85 now and he’ll get that down to 4.7. Plus he learns fast.

“He’s the kind of player you love to coach, He’s got so much potential it gives you goose pimples.”

Basketball in college

The subject of all this adulation is a 6-2, 205-pound native of Salamanca, N.Y., who looks something like a young Paul Newman. And what makes the coaching raves so remarkable is that Crist played only basketball at Penn State and hadn’t had a football uniform on since high school, until Penn State cage coach Johnny Bach got him a tryout with the Giants.

The switch to football came because “Cool Hand Crist” knew his limitations and figured he had no chance to make it in the NBA. “But because of the kind of defensive movements you develop in basketball, I figured I could make it as a defensive back in football,” says Crist.

He knows he has a long way to go to become a really good defensive back in the NFL. “The plays are in the book and the coverage is routine,” he says. “It’s the mechanical things that take time.”

Unfortunately, there will be no time this season for Crist to develop those skills. “We want to be 10-4,” says Webster and he will not break up his platoons to give the young player experience now.

So give Crist a year, or maybe two, and he might be giving fans goose pimples, too.

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