Miami's Maurice Crum smiles when he walks across campus and hears the chant "Mo knows football.... Mo knows baseball." The teasing began this past spring when Crum, a six-foot, 222-pound senior linebacker, decided to renew his longtime love affair with baseball after not having played the sport for two years.
A lefthanded hitter, Crum was not as adept at drilling baseballs as he was at drilling ballcarriers; he hit .234 with one home run and seven RBIs while serving as a backup first baseman and designated hitter. But he did show Miami baseball coach Ron Fraser the potential that led the Chicago White Sox to draft him out of high school and offer him a $37,000 bonus. "You could see the talent was there," says Fraser. "He's a pressure-type guy."
Ditto in football, only more so. Linebackers coach Tommy Tuberville calls Crum "the best natural linebacker we've had," and the Hurricanes have had some good ones. Against Notre Dame last season, he made 17 tackles in Miami's 27-10 victory.
Crum wasn't a football fan as a youngster. He grew up in the Belmont Heights section of Tampa, which has produced major leaguers Dwight Gooden, Gary Sheffield and Floyd Youmans, and where baseball is the game of choice. Maurice starred on the local Little League team, which,, with him in the lineup, twice advanced to the final game at the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. His late start in football was not strictly a matter of choice. When Maurice was six, a sickle-cell anemia trait was detected in his genes. He suffered from headaches and was forbidden to play contact sports until high school. There, he became a good enough football player to get scholarship offers from Miami, West Virginia, Ohio State, Minnesota and Florida State.
Still, baseball remained his first love. "It was always my dream to come to Miami and play baseball, not football," Crum says. "I never really paid much attention to football. If a game was on TV, I might have watched a couple of plays and just kept going. I never watched a whole game."
The offer from the White Sox was tempting, especially because, at age 18 Crum was the father of a two-year-old boy, Maurice Jr. But Crum's mother, Geraldine, a cook at a Tampa junior high, argued that he should go to college and become the first member of the family to get a degree. When Crum decided to go to college, Jimmy Johnson, then the Miami coach, convinced him that his chances of having a pro career would be better in football.
As a freshman, Crum played on special teams and in reserve duty at linebacker. The next year, starting only six games, Crum led the team in tackles—as he did again last season—unusual for an outside linebacker playing on the weak side.
Crum decided to return to baseball this spring partly because some NFL scouts feel he is too small to play linebacker in the pros. "It's better to have two shots than one," says Crum, who will have a third option next May when he graduates with a degree in criminal science, with an eye on becoming an FBI agent.
Crum will give baseball another try next spring, but first he hopes to enhance his football reputation by helping Miami to what would be its third national title in his four years on campus. "This year it's his team," says Tuberville. "He's got to have a good year for us to have a good defense."
Mo knows. "Ever since I've been here, I've always been in the shadow of other players," Crum says. "But that never really bothered me, because I'm more of a team player than anything. But I'll have to be more vocal this season. I'm looking for big things, as usual."