Gateway grad Crystol earns All-American nod on Thiel's line
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Jason Crystol remembers the date — October 1, 2011.
It was the first game he played as a member of the Thiel College football team.
Crystol, a 2011 Gateway graduate, entered the game in a reserve role during the Tomcats 50-7 loss to Presidents Athletic Conference power Thomas More.
He earned his first start a week later.
Thiel went 0-10 overall in the 2011 season and was 0-8 in the PAC, as Crystol ended the season with appearances in five games, including two starts.
Fast forward three years later, and Crystol is the heart and soul of a Tomcats offensive line that is looking to build upon successes from the 2013 season.
Crystol has been named a preseason first-team All-American offensive lineman for Division III by USA Football Network.
It is his second consecutive All-American nod, as he was selected to the preseason fourth team by the USA Football Network last year.
“It is a great honor,” Crystol said.
“At the same time, the one thing that matters is where I and the team stand at the end of the season. But (the All-American selection) is a great motivator for me, like it was last season. It helps me to work harder to get ready for the season in these next couple weeks until camp starts. We just want to win the conference. That is our focus.”
Crystol is one of 29 offensive lineman on the first team out of all the schools in the large Division III landscape.
Thiel finished its 2013 season 3-7 overall and 3-6 in the PAC.
The Tomcats suffered a 50-44 overtime loss to Mercer County rival Grove City in the season finale. The loss came one week after a 45-37 victory over Westminster in four overtimes.
The contest with the Titans was the first night game in the 109-year history of Thiel College football.
After the season, Crystol was one of 13 Tomcat players to receive PAC first-team honors, and he was the only one of the 13 to be named to the first team.
He helped the Thiel offense run the ball with effectiveness, as the running game surpassed the 2,000-yard mark for the season.
The top two running backs in the Thiel offense were second-team picks.
“We played well, but we could've done a lot better, and that is a lot of motivation for us,” Crystol said.
“Offensively, we stepped up and played better than we did my first two years. This year, we're looking to take that next step, and the offense, defense and special teams are hoping to come together.”
Three members of the Tomcat defense were All-American selections.
“We have a lot of optimism,” Crystol said.
“We have a lot of players coming back on both sides of the ball. Everyone's been working really hard this summer, as we did the last semester in the spring. Everyone's excited to get back and take care of business.”
As a sophomore in 2012, Crystol started nine games and earned second-team All-PAC honors at center. Thiel improved its record to 3-7 overall and 3-5 in the PAC after the winless 2011 campaign.
“I can't believe it's my senior year already,” Crystol said.
“It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman and getting to start my first game. On the bus on the day of the game, I was told I was starting. Everything from the start of my freshman year to now has just flown by.”
Crystol knows that the time to make things happen won't last long.
“There's no more opportunities for me and the other seniors after this year. We want to make it our best, and we're confident we can make it a great season,” he said.
Crystol welcomes the responsibility of being a leader other players can turn to and look up to.
“Being a senior adds a little bit more pressure,” Crystol said. “You are one the incoming freshmen look to as an example. I want to be that example for them by doing the right things on and off the field. Three years ago, I was in their position. When I was a freshman, I was a little homesick and wasn't sure how everything was going to turn out. But the juniors and seniors helped me feel more comfortable and made sure I knew I belonged on the team.”
Thiel opens its season on the road Sept. 6 with a game at Allegheny at 7 p.m. The Tomcats play their first home game on Sept. 13 at 7 p.m. �against PAC rival Bethany.
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.
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