Covering Dallas, Monmouth, Independence, Falls City and surrounding areas since 1868
Perrydale senior Justin Cruickshank’s ability to lead both by example and vocally for a Pirates’ football team that had to regroup from the loss of nine players from last year’s team was the primary reason for his selection as Polk County’s Football Player of the Year.
November 28, 2012
PERRYDALE -- Entering his senior season as Perrydale's indisputable starter at quarterback, Justin Cruickshank wasn't oblivious to the challenges that awaited him.
"I knew that I was going to have to be a big part of the team," he said Sunday by phone, his final prep football season already in the books.
Of course, that wasn't all.
"I knew I was really going to have to step it up on the defensive end," he added. "I knew I was going to have to be a linebacker even if I didn't really have the size. I knew I was going to have to take some of the offensive load off Josh (Hiebenthal) and be able to throw the ball when I needed to.
"I knew I was going to have a huge role, on both sides of the ball."
Cruickshank -- all 5-foot-8, 155-pounds of him -- knew what was expected of him from a squad that's reached the state playoffs 11 straight times. He did all those things, too.
But it was what he did without even thinking about it -- as one of the best leaders the Pirates had ever seen -- that made him the player he turned out to be.
For that reason, Cruickshank, just edging out senior teammate Josh Hiebenthal -- a close runner-up -- is the 2012 Polk County Player of the Year for high school football.
Cruickshank had the numbers to back up his status as Perrydale's unquestioned field general.
In the Pirates' nine games, he totaled 1,662 total offensive yards. Of those, 732 yards came through the air -- he completed 27-of-40 (67.5 percent) passes in a run-heavy offense -- and 930 yards came from his legs, as he carried the ball from under center 62 times.
That was good for a 15 yards per carry average.
He scored 16 touchdowns on the ground and threw 10 more TDs via the passing game to lead Perrydale to a 7-3 record, a Class 1A state quarterfinal berth and a second-place finish in Special District 1.
No, his passing numbers wouldn't fly in a West Coast offense. But his coaches weren't aiming for those standards. Neither was Cruickshank.
Justin Cruickshank, left, talks to Perrydale offensive coordinator Luke Lindell during a game this season.
"I can't throw the ball like Peyton Manning," Cruickshank said with a laugh. "I knew I was going to have to do it with my legs and not my arm."
His ability to play within himself was one of the senior's best traits.
"A lot of times as a quarterback you think they have to have 300-yard passing games, but that's not what we were asking him to do," Perrydale head coach Dan Dugan said. "To be a dual threat like he was, for him to be as accurate as he was, it's tough to do.
"He plays within himself and I think that was contagious with the team."
On the defensive end, Cruickshank took on a new role as a linebacker, making a switch from defensive back, a position he had played his entire football career.
It turned out to be more than OK.
"I loved playing linebacker," Cruickshank -- who earned first team all-Special District 1 honors on both sides of the ball -- said with a chuckle. "I just loved tackling people -- I don't know what's wrong with me."
But it was his ability to direct the offense -- moreover his calming force on and off the field -- that truly made him stand out.
"He just has that steadying hand in the locker room, on the sideline, on the field - he's always even-keeled," Dugan said. "He says what needs to be said, he doesn't do a lot of `hoo-rah' on the sideline, but he commands respect, he really does.
"He's by far one of the best leaders we've had come through Perrydale in the past 15 years that I've been here."
Cruickshank, who would like to walk on and play football in college, if possible, said his plans right now are to attend Chemeketa Community College to get his core classes finished before pursuing a degree in criminal justice.
He wants to enter the field of law enforcement, as either a deputy sheriff or a U.S. Marshal.
For now, though, he's proud of what his team -- his friends -- were able to accomplish.
"Going into the season I knew we were going to be pretty good, but the fact that our only two losses up until (Imbler) were two of the teams in the championship, it makes me proud of what we were able to accomplish," Cruickshank said, referring to St. Paul and Camas Valley.
He admits, however, that the conclusion of his high school football career wasn't easy to swallow.
"With Perrydale, you have all these guys that you've played with in middle school and all the way up," Cruickshank said.
"That's kind of been the brighter part (of it being over), I've been able to finish football with all of my friends."