Cobleskill-Richmondville wrestling star Jeff Crooks isn’t taking his good fortune for granted.
He won a state title just before high school sports in New York came to a halt back in March, and with that timely success, doors that weren’t open became so.
“We were talking the other day about it, how he got the opportunity to compete, and how two weeks later everything shut down,” Cobleskill-Richmondville wrestling coach Justin Kimball said. “He is so thankful he had the opportunity. Without that, who knows who would have looked at him.”
Several Ivy League institutions took note of Crooks’ glossy mat resume that is highlighted by his 220-pound Division II state championship, including Harvard University, the place he’ll call his second home beginning in the fall of 2021.
“You can have a list of accomplishments, but when you’re on top of the state, it’s different,” Crooks said. “It really helps.”
“Wrestling opened the door,” Kimball said, before adding. “But without the grades, you don’t get in.”
Ivy League schools Princeton, Columbia and Brown, as well as West Point, also expressed serious interest in Crooks, who bounced back from an injury to go 17-0 last season with the last four wins coming against some of the state’s other elite wrestlers at Times Union Center.
“One of my coaches said [to the Harvard staff], ‘This kid is pretty good,’ and they reached out,” Crooks said. “I remember after the first call with them. I was going crazy.”
“There was definitely a mutual interest,” Kimball said.
And one thing led to another, culminating with the announcement last week on Twitter that he plans to attend the prestigious university.
“I never would have thought. It’s so surreal,” Crooks said. “I’m really grateful for everything that’s happened, and thankful to everyone who helped me get to this point.”
Crooks has committed to Harvard’s application process, which means from now until his time of admission, “Don’t do anything stupid. Don’t do anything to make them think you’re not the person they think you are,” he said.
While Crooks committed to Harvard without making an official or unofficial visit there, he did tour the Cambridge, Mass., area over the summer.
“I drove out to get a feel for the area,” the 17-year-old said. “I looked at the town and outside the campus.”
Crooks said he is excited about the opportunities Harvard will present both athletically and academically.
“They have a great set of coaches out there,” Crooks said of Harvard head coach Jay Weiss and his lead assistant, Jimmy Sheptock. “They know exactly what they’re doing. I know they can help me develop into the wrestler I want to be.”
Crooks isn’t certain what direction he’ll go from an academic standpoint.
“I’m undecided, but I’ve always been kind of a math and science guy,” said Crooks, who ranks in the top 10 in his senior class. “Harvard offers a lot of different things. It’s a place where I can find my passion.”
Crooks sustained a severe ankle injury in Week 1 of the 2019 football season, and, following surgery, worked his way back into wrestling form. He competed for a little more than a month beginning in late January, with his unbeaten mark including two wins at both the Section II and state dual meet championships, three wins at both the Section II Class CC and Division II title meets, and four more at the state tournament when he became Cobleskill-Richmondville’s first titlist there. As a sophomore, he was fourth there.
“The kid was out all year,” Kimball said. “To come back and make a run like that was phenomenal. It shows the work he put in. He deserved everything he got.”
Crooks may not get a chance to go after another state crown, or wrestle again at the scholastic level at all. There’s still so much uncertainty surrounding the winter athletic season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m trying not to get my hopes too high up. I hope we do,” Crooks said. “Right now I’m training and preparing for anything that comes.”
Reach Jim Schiltz at [email protected] or @jim_schiltz on Twitter.