Mike Croel was chosen as a linebacker on the Globe’s All-Time All-Scholastic football team. As part of the project, he discussed his football life with us. Responses have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: You had an incredibly successful career at Lincoln-Sudbury, you never lost a high school football game in Massachusetts and you won two Super Bowls. How was that experience?
MC: It was good. I just remember working with [coach] Tom Lopez, the long practices. You know, in high school, you never really ever washed your uniform. Once I think about it now, I don’t think I washed my shirt for the whole season. I think at one point I put it up on the hanger and it could just stand up on its own after a couple days.
Q: Your first NFL season you almost broke the rookie sack record. What stands out to you about that season all these years later?
MC: Well, rookie season, they started me late on my contract, so I did come to camp late. I get to camp and I parked my car illegally, so I got a parking ticket. I took my bags out and just ran to practice. As soon as I got there, I had to do a conditioning test. I think I had to run back and forth like 100 times. I was gassed. And basically they’re just trying to get me caught up with the program, so training camp was tough, I definitely had to catch up and get in a little bit better condition. That was a little bit of a struggle but it all worked out.
When the season started, Tim Lucas was another linebacker in my position, he was actually ahead of me. I think the plan was for him to play and then for me eventually to catch up and take over his position. So what happened was, Tim Lucas got injured, I think maybe like the second game. So from that point on, it was like “Mike you’re up, you’ve got to take over the first spot and be there and do the best you can.”
My rookie year, grasping the concept of the scheme of things was a little difficult, but what allowed me to cover things up was my speed. That was my saving grace. When the sacks started to come, they were giving me more opportunities to rush. I almost broke the rookie sack record, but I just hit a wall. I needed two to at least tie and I just couldn’t get them. I think I had a game playing against the Eagles when Randall Cunningham was a quarterback and I swear I had him almost three times that game, so that was a little disappointing. But then again, getting rookie of the year was an excellent honor to have.
Q: You played alongside a rookie Ray Lewis in Baltimore. Did you think he would go on to be arguably the greatest linebacker ever at that time?
MC: I knew he was going to be good as hell. He definitely had a lot of energy all the time. And he was super strong. He was real smart. He was our middle backer, of course. He stepped in his rookie year and he did a great job. He needed a little more help on certain things, but once we kind of calmed him down and gave him some advice, he took that to heart and just kept excelling every day.
Q: You were sort of a prototype player. I think we see a lot of players in today’s NFL who are kind of in between a linebacker and safety. Do you think you would’ve been even better in today’s NFL?
MC: Good question, I don’t know. I think now with tackling and all this kind of stuff they’ve got going on, I think I’d be ejected out of every game eventually.
Q: What’s something — it could be a story, a stat, a realization, whatever — from your career that people might not know?
MC: Let’s go back to Sudbury. I had a hard time memorizing my plays. So Tom Lopez would always come up with a couple of plays so I wouldn’t forget, and one of them I can still remember was called Surf Reverse. When I heard that I knew exactly what it was because I surfed and we did a reverse on it. That was one of my bread and butter plays.
Read more about the Globe’s all-time All-Scholastic football team
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