Michael Crabtree sure looked sure-handed for the 49ers on Sunday. San Francisco’s fourth-year wideout continued his solid play with a six-catch, 67-yard outing against the Detroit Lions.
Crabtree’s clutch catches helped the 49ers improve to 2-0 with a 27-19 home victory. The 49ers wideout was also “Sure-Handed” on the team’s Gameday magazine.
The most recent cover story, shot by team photographer Terrell Lloyd and designed by team graphic designer Ben Mayberry, covered Crabree’s background as a wide receiver and how he learned to be a hands-first, pass-catcher.
Without further ado, get to know Crabtree in this 49ers Gameday cover story.
Best. Hands. Ever. Michael Crabtree’s mitts have earned mighty praise.
By Taylor Price, 49ers.com
Football player. That’s how Michael Crabtree sees himself whenever he steps on the field. Not just a receiver or a route-runner, Crabtree wants to do everything asked of him at the highest possible level. Those old-school, throwback characteristics are also being seen on a daily basis by the fourth-year wideout’s coaches and teammates. Crabtree entered the 2012 season in the best shape of his professional career and with an eagerness to continue the chemistry he’s been developing with starting quarterback Alex Smith. That was more than evident in the team’s Week One, 30-22 win over the Green Bay Packers, the franchise’s first win at Lambeau Field since 1990. Crabtree caught a team-high seven passes for 76 yards, including four, first-down receptions.
“You can see he’s getting better every year,” says 49ers all-time leading rusher and offensive co-captain Frank Gore. “He takes care of his body. Coming in early, staying after. He’s doing extra workouts. Once he’s on the field, he’s a football player. I think he’s a top receiver in the league. He’s got great hands, runs great routes. He’s very good after the catch. He can make people miss – he’s strong. He blocks. He can do it all.”
If that’s not a good enough endorsement, take Jim Harbaugh’s headline-worthy words this offseason stemming from an interview he conducted with a Bay Area radio station. “Crab’s got the best hands I’ve ever seen on a wide receiver,” the 49ers coach said.
Making the praise even more significant is the fact that Harbaugh has come across several talented receivers during his time in the NFL, both as a player and coach. Even so, the second-year 49ers coach felt compelled to share his feelings on the team’s No. 10 overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
Sure hands, fluid route-running, physical perimeter blocking, a yearning for yards after the catch and a flamboyant style make Crabtree one of the most talented players on a deep San Francisco 49ers roster. The team’s leading wideout in 2011 with 72 receptions and 874 receiving yards has made at least one catch in all 45 of his career games and has three-or-more catches in 38 of those contests.
So how did Crabtree learn to become a reliable pass-catcher? Simple, by taking full-sized footballs off the chest while trying to catch the rifled passes being thrown at him by his older brother and cousins. Backyard football games in the Crabtree household weren’t age-sensitive by any means. If you attempted to catch the ball, you were old enough to play.
“My cousins used to throw the ball hard at me,” recalls Crabtree, a multi-sport standout at Dallas’ Carter High School. “They were like 5-7 years older than me. I was the baby. They’d throw the ball hard at me and it used to bruise my chest – they didn’t care if it bounced off my chest. I’d go into the house and my chest was all red. I said, ‘I’m fixing to start stopping this ball!’ So that’s when I started catching with my hands.”
The 6-foot-1, 214-pound wideout’s competitive ways have been a part of him for some time. At Carter High, Crabtree received multiple scholarship offers to play football and basketball collegiately. Eventually, he chose to play football at Texas Tech University where he won the Fred Biletnikoff Award given to the nation’s top receiver in both of his two seasons of collegiate football.
Crabtree starred in college, but if he didn’t make every catch, the mishaps would stick with him long past the game’s final whistle. “I thought I was supposed to catch every pass,” recalls Crabtree. “If I dropped one pass, I couldn’t sleep. I took it serious. Still to this day I go through the same things – I feel like I’m supposed to catch every pass.”
Crabtree admits he’s not into following the latest headlines on television, online or in print, but he heard about Harbaugh’s “best hands” comment. Crabtree didn’t mind it either.
“I’ve heard a lot of coaches say it, my old coach (former Texas Tech head coach Mike Leach) used to say it all the time. It holds me to a higher standard where I’ve really got to catch every pass now,” says Crabtree.
High expectations are perfectly fine in the young wide receiver’s book.
“As a receiver, it’s competitive, you want to catch every pass,” says Crabtree. “No matter how the ball is, that’s what makes you a receiver. It’s what makes you special.”
Offensive coordinator Greg Roman has no difficulty tapping into Crabtree’s talents. In his first season working with the do-it-all wideout, Crabtree set career highs in catches and receiving yards. With Crabtree standing out throughout the team’s offseason thanks to his leaner appearance, Roman detailed the many positive aspects of Crabtree’s development.
“Mike’s a very sure-handed guy,” Roman said midway through training camp. “He’s got really good size, extremely good runner after the catch. I think he’s a really good all-around player. When we needed some big plays last year he sure stepped up… He’s a good football player.”
Following his 2011 campaign, Crabtree decided to give back to his Dallas community by creating his first annual, free of charge football camp. In fact, it turned out to be the first football camp of the “Football player’s” 25 years on this earth. Crabtree, however, wasn’t firing full-sized footballs at the campers like his older cousins did to him back in the day. Instead, he stressed the important details of playing the position to hundreds of campers, including to his own cousins.
“It meant a lot, especially to do it in my hometown where there are a lot of great athletes,” says Crabtree of the experience. “I’m trying to bring the elite athletes out. Next year, I’m going to have a lot for them to do, a lot of stuff to give away. I’m trying to make it competitive out there, too.”
The offseason was quite beneficial for Crabtree, both personally and professionally. But don’t be mistaken, he’s never taken his focus off the ultimate goal.
“I’m just ready to play. I’m taking it one game at a time,” he says.
The next game, Sunday’s home opener against the Detroit Lions at Candlestick Park, couldn’t come soon enough. San Francisco’s playoff fever has carried over to the 2012 season where Crabtree feels the support of the team’s Faithful fans every day on his @KingCrab15 Twitter account.
“I love the fans, I want to thank them for all the support through the years,” says Crabtree. “I do it for the fans. I’m trying to put on a show. I know they want to see guys make plays, they want to see it, and I feel like we’ve got the people and the talent to really show it. I’m ready to showcase these skills.”
Crabtree’s one-game-at-a-time approach will be seen next in front of the 49ers Faithful.
“I’m ready to go out there and play at home,” he says. “I know there’s a new stadium we’re building, so I’m really trying to get all the games I can get into Candlestick, it’s so legendary. The fans, they show us a lot of love. We feed off their energy. We can’t wait to get back to The ‘Stick and show what we got.”
Before Crabtree can take the playing field in the nationally televised game, he has to make sure his pregame attire is just right. No, he doesn’t lay out his uniform like his friend Deion Sanders or fellow starting wideout Randy Moss. In actuality, Crabtree’s pre-game mojo derives from the shoes he’ll be wearing.
Crabtree’s fondness for sneakers dates back to his youth. The limited sneakers he was able to acquire as a child would always be kept in tip-top shape. Crabtree’s passion for footwear carried over to his professional career. After Crabtree signed his rookie contract with the 49ers, he later signed an endorsement deal with Jordan Brand.
On Sundays, fans will be able to see Crabtree’s two-tone, red and gold cleats that have been kept under wraps during the design phase and were recently unveiled in the team’s season-opening win in Green Bay.
“I’ve gotta have some shoes,” admits Crabtree. “Other guys gotta have other things – it’s something different for everybody. My thing is shoes. It’s just part of the charisma that I have. It’s part of my football swag. I’m just ready to go out there and do what we gotta do: look good, play good, feel good.”
Tags: Frank Gore, Greg Roman, Jim Harbaugh, Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss
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