When Krenzel wasn't rescuing the team from impending defeat, he was acting as its emotional touchstone. "He's so calm, I think he's a little weird," says Chris Gamble, the Buckeyes' sensational flanker-defensive back. "He threw that pass to Mike Jenkins at Purdue and just jogged off the field like he does it every day." During the Fiesta Bowl, according to those who were in the huddle with him, Krenzel broke the tension during TV timeouts by cracking jokes. On Nov. 2, immediately after Ohio State had rallied in the second half to dispatch outmanned Minnesota 34-3 at Ohio Stadium, Krenzel went up to senior wideout Chris Vance, whose brother, Percy Burton, had been shot to death outside a Fort Myers, Fla., nightclub the night before. In the afterglow of a bittersweet victory, Krenzel put his hands on Vance's shoulder pads and told him, "If you need anything, I'm here. Not just tonight. Anytime."
On a rainy summer afternoon, Debbie and Al Krenzel had time on their hands. Al, 63, an Army veteran who served 16 months in Vietnam, lost the accounting job he had for 26 years when his company downsized last fall. Debbie works as a school bookkeeper and gets most of the summer off. "Let's watch the Fiesta Bowl again," Debbie said. Seated in the living room of their small colonial house in Sterling Heights, Mich., 10 miles north of downtown Detroit, the couple watched one more time as Ohio State won its first outright national championship in 34 years. Again the youngest of their three children rumbled recklessly for 81 yards on 19 carries and held the Buckeyes together in overtime. Again Ohio State kept Miami out of the end zone with a climactic goal line stand. When the tape finished, Debbie clicked off the VCR and said to her husband, "What did we do right?"
If they figure that out, they should write a book. In addition to Craig, the Krenzels' accomplished offspring include Brian, 26, who played safety for four years at Duke, graduated last spring from the University of Louisville School of Medicine and now is an intern in orthopedic surgery at Duke University Medical Center; and Krysten, 25, who teaches fourth grade in Sterling Heights. "We always told the kids, 'Do anything you want, but put your heart and soul into it. Do not just show up,' " Al says.
Craig was throwing a football in the gym one afternoon in 1995 before his freshman year at Ford High. He was a skinny 6-footer, but there was something about his motion that intrigued Terry Copacia, the new football coach. A former quarterback at Division II Wayne State with a jones for teaching the arcane fundamentals of quarterbacking, he started working with Craig, introducing him to footwork drills that he practices to this day. Krenzel, typically, threw himself into the lessons. Says Brian, "Terry Copacia is a huge part of why Craig has achieved what he has."
Copacia was ready to play Krenzel in his sophomore year but met resistance from a community that was accustomed to seeing seniors in the starring roles. However, when Ford fell behind in the season-opener against Brighton, which was led by future Michigan quarterback Drew Henson, Copacia inserted Krenzel, who engineered two scoring drives to bring Ford to within a missed field goal of a comeback victory. "Right there," says Copacia, "you could see he had something special."
Krenzel was getting most of the snaps by the end of the season, after which Copacia made a crude four-minute highlight tape of his quarterback. Having never coached a top recruit, he took the video to Central Michigan assistant Tom Kearly, who watched one minute and told Copacia, "Coach, he can play for us right now and play four years." Satisfied, Copacia sent the tape to 30 colleges and gave a copy to Brian Krenzel, who showed it to Duke assistant and former NFL guard Joe DeLamielleure. "He was one of the best high school players I'd ever seen," DeLamielleure says. "He was hitting players in the chest, and they were dropping everything. I remember saying, 'He'll go to Texas or Colorado or Michigan or somewhere like that.' "
Michigan, just an hour down the road from Sterling Heights, recruited Krenzel until his junior year, when Henson, a class ahead, signed with the Wolverines. Michigan State came after Krenzel hard, as did Boston College. But after visiting Columbus in April of his junior year he committed to Ohio State, a four-hour drive from his hometown. "Good school, good medical school, good football program and just the right distance from home, where Mom and Dad can make all the games but can't show up on my doorstep unannounced," says Krenzel. "Plus, it just felt right."
Krenzel redshirted his first year, in the fall of 1999, and was buried in the depth chart the following season. In January 2001 Jim Tressel replaced John Cooper as coach, but Krenzel remained third-string, behind senior Steve Bellisari and fellow sophomore Scott McMullen. "It was obvious he had a great understanding of football," says Joe Daniels, the quarterbacks coach under Tressel, "but he needed reps throwing the ball. He was inconsistent."
Though frustrated about his football career, Krenzel flourished in the classroom. He had been interested in medicine since childhood, but at Ohio State he upped the ante by choosing to major in molecular genetics. "If a person just wants to get to med school, they'll major in biology, not genetics," says Adrienne Dorrance, an Ohio State graduate who supervises Krenzel in the leukemia study. "To major in genetics you have to love science, and you need a great desire to learn." Even fellow premed football players like Hartsock were amazed at Krenzel's classroom prowess. "We've been in a lot of the same classes, and we have about the same GPA," says Hartsock, a biology major. "But the joke is, he's spent about half the time getting there. He just has this amazing ability to absorb and retain knowledge." In the premed crucible of organic chemistry, Krenzel set the class curve, often scoring higher than perfect on exams by nailing bonus questions.
In the fall of 2001 a preseason thigh injury kept Krenzel a distant third on the depth chart. "I was barely getting any reps in practice," he recalls. The bye week on the Ohio State schedule that year was Saturday, Oct. 20, and nearly two years earlier Krysten had scheduled her wedding for that day so Craig could attend without missing a game. But Sept. 11 changed so much, including team schedules. The Buckeyes' Sept. 15 game against San Diego State was moved to Oct. 20. Krenzel would have to miss either the game or his sister's wedding. "Krysten was crushed because Craig isn't just her brother, he's her buddy" says Debbie.