|OCVarsity Gridiron: Can Santa Margarita win state?|
Steve Fryer and Carlos Arias travel to Santa Margarita Catholic high school to preview the Eagles Division I CIF state bowl game against Bellarmine. Video by Jonathan Khamis, OCVarsity.com.
|Tough Knocks - Santa Margarita: We are the champions!|
Episode 16 - The Santa Margarita Eagles battle the formidable San Clemente Tritons in CIF Pac-5 championship game at Angels Stadium. Video by Rod Veal & Jonathan Khamis, OCVarsity.com
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Eagles' River Cracraft runs through adversity
RANCHO SANTA MARGARITA – A river is a calm but relentless body of water, cutting through the Earth as water determinedly flows from point A to point B.
And when you meet Santa Margarita junior wide receiver River Cracraft, you notice a lot of the same qualities.
From a distance, he doesn't seem like much. He's not too tall, not too strong. When he talks, it's not too loud. But like a river, the closer you get the more powerful he seems.
Sure, injuries have stolen a big chunk of his season, but in the Eagles' biggest game of the season — the Pac-5 final last Saturday at Angel Stadium — Cracraft starred.
After dropping a pass on the game's first play, Cracraft caught seven passes for 71 yards with a touchdown. On defense, he also iced a 27-13 victory with a late interception.
The Eagles face Bellarmine of San Jose in the CIF State Division 1 bowl game Friday at 8 p.m. at The Home Depot Center in Carson.
"Not only does he make a real impact on offense, he's a playmaker on defense," Santa Margarita coach Harry Welch said. "You can never have enough of those players.
"He's the whole package — a great kid."
Cracraft proved his perseverance in the face of adversity multiple times this season. Just before the team began practices in August, Cracraft suffered a shoulder injury that kept him out for six weeks. Then, after working his way back into shape, Cracraft broke his foot during a non-contact situation, leading to a surgery and six more lost weeks.
"It was just a freak, freak accident," Welch said.
Cracraft diligently rehabbed and got back on the field in time for Santa Margarita's first game in November — a 28-20 victory over Trinity League rival St. John Bosco of Bellflower.
Since returning, he has grabbed 35 passes for 452 yards and three scores.
"He'd been wanting to get back at it so much," Santa Margarita junior quarterback Johnny Stanton said. "He was champing at the bit to get back in the game."
During the Eagles' playoff run, Cracraft made just as big of an impact on defense, intercepting a pass in the second-round game at Long Beach Poly.
"He's been an inspiration to the other players and to me as a coach, and everyone likes him," Welch said. "When he makes these spectacular catches, no one on our team is surprised."
But Saturday at Angel Stadium, Cracraft surprised his teammates by dropping the first ball thrown his way.
"It was a big rush. Angel Stadium is a big stadium. There were a lot of people there," Cracraft said. "I think it got to a lot of us and got in our heads at the beginning of the game.
"... Sadly, I was one of them."
Still, that drop didn't sink him. Instead, it woke him up.
"It didn't sink my confidence in going back to him," Welch said. "I have so much trust and belief in him that I knew after he dropped that ball, we'd come back to him."
After all he has been through, a dropped pass wasn't going to slow him. After all, a shoulder injury couldn't do the job, and foot surgery wasn't a problem. When it comes to toughness, both mental and physical, this River is overflowing.
And that's been a crucial element to Santa Margarita's late-season success on offense, Stanton said.
"I don't think it would work as well without him," Stanton said. "We really need that deep threat. We run so much, and we have everything between the tackles or running outside. If we don't keep the defense spread out, our running game wouldn't be as successful."
Whether the ball is in his hands or not, Cracraft is cherishing every play during the Eagles' championship run. It's nothing he makes a big deal of, even though, in reality, it is.
"I do a lot of blocking. We have a great line, a great running back (Ryan Wolpin) and Johnny, another great running back (playing quarterback)," Cracraft said. "I do my part, but I get my fair share of passes too."
He just does what he's supposed to, always going with the flow.
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