PHOTO: BYU quarterback Joe Critchlow tosses a pass against UMass in 2017. / GABRIEL MAYBERRY
By RUSSELL VANNOZZI
Former Franklin quarterback Joe Critchlow admits his path to becoming a college starter hasn’t been a simple one.
But that doesn’t mean things haven’t gone exactly as he hoped they would.
Three years after graduating from Franklin, Critchlow is living his dream of playing quarterback for Brigham Young University. He started three games last season and is currently in a four-man race to earn the job this year.
“A QB competition is always a pretty difficult situation,” he said. “But I’m trying to look at it in a positive way. We drive each other to work hard and to help improve the team.”
Senior Tanner Mangum, junior Beau Hoge, and freshman Zach Wilson are considered the top candidates, along with Critchlow, to earn the starting nod when the Cougars face Arizona on Sept. 1.
Standing out from the crowd
The mild-mannered Critchlow is no college jock. In fact, he devoted two years of his life to serving a church mission in Canada. He also scored a 31 on the ACT and has plans of continuing his education beyond BYU.
“I’d call him your ‘good-ole American boy,’” Franklin head football coach Donnie Webb said of Critchlow. “If my daughter was his age, I’d be proud if he came to my house to take her out. He’s a good young man.”
Critchlow is a life-long member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, commonly known as the Mormon Church. Everything he does is guided by his faith, even if that meant putting his favorite sport aside for two seasons.
“I love being a member of the LDS church,” Critchlow said. “I was very blessed to have a lot of friends that understood and respected my faith. I didn’t feel like an outcast, but I did have some different standards and responsibilities that other people probably didn’t.”
High school success doesn’t equal college offers
The 6-foot-4 signal caller caught the eye of several SEC schools, including Georgia and Vanderbilt, after his sophomore year at Franklin. However, when Critchlow made his plans of serving a two-year LDS mission after high school known, many coaches backed off.
“It’s somewhat understandable,” he said. “A coach would prefer to have a player immediately after he signs. My faith is something that’s important to me and I was always committed to serving the mission.”
Critchlow went on to lead the Rebels to 16 wins over his final two seasons. He also set school records for career completions (418), yards (5,703) and touchdowns (68), yet he yet never regained significant interest from college coaches.
“I think a lot of (college coaches) would say his mission had nothing to do with it, but I’d say they’re not telling the truth,” Webb said. “For the entire time I’ve known him, Joe’s wanted to go to BYU to play football, so everything worked out in the end.”
A chance encounter
Southern Utah coach Ed Lamb once watched Critchlow perform at a BYU football camp, but he was under the impression that Critchlow would commit to a big-name school.
However, through a distant connection, former Southern Utah quarterback Brad Sorenson stayed at the Critchlow family home during his brief stint with the Tennessee Titans in September 2014. Sorenson attended one of Critchlow’s high school games and saw potential in the still-uncommitted senior. Sorensen immediately reached out to Lamb, who, as it turned out, had already seen Critchlow throw and was surprised to hear he was still available.
“Coach Lamb thought that because I was receiving interest from bigger schools, I wouldn’t end up at Southern Utah,” Critchlow said. “Having Brad stay at my house kind of re-sparked that conversation I had with (Lamb).”
Critchlow ultimately signed with Southern Utah in February 2015. Thanks to its location, the program was more understanding of Critchlow’s Mormon faith. It certainly wasn’t the BYU opportunity that he had dreamed of as a kid, but nonetheless, he had a scholarship lined up and could shift his focus to the mission.
In July 2015, Critchlow took off for Montreal to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ to French-speaking people in Quebec.
The only problem with that? He first had to learn the language.
“I took an intro to French class with Mrs. Nixon at Franklin, and she would always joke because I was so terrible at pronouncing the words,” Critchlow said. “When I was asked to learn French, I was very skeptical and a bit scared. But I feel like I received a lot of divine aid and was able to pick it up pretty quickly.”
Critchlow was largely cut off from society during his stint in Canada. He was still able to work out in the mornings to attempt to stay in football shape, and he was allowed access to email once-a-week.
“I wasn’t allowed to have communication with any coaches, so I was very much in the dark,” Critchlow said. “I didn’t even know the college football scores, and I had no idea how BYU or Southern Utah were doing.”
But it was through weekly emails with his father, David, that Critchlow kept up with a coaching change that would alter his college plans.
From SUU to BYU
Lamb, who Critchlow was supposed to play for when he returned to Southern Utah, was hired as an assistant at BYU after its coaching staff left for Virginia following the 2015 season.
David Critchlow helped Joe get an official release from Southern Utah so the family could talk to other schools on their son’s behalf. As it turned out, Lamb’s BYU team had an extra spot for a quarterback in its 2017 signing class.
“It was a dream come true,” the younger Critchlow said. “It was the school I wanted to play for, giving me a chance to work with the coaches I had already developed a relationship with.”
Critchlow returned from his mission in June 2017, only to turn around and report to BYU for summer football workouts one week later. He arrived on campus buried on the depth chart, but after several injuries decimated BYU’s QB situation, Critchlow found himself starting the team’s final three games.
“It was unexpected,” he said, “Despite my efforts to work out (during the mission), I was out of shape and underweight. The coaches were planning on redshirting me and having me take a season to develop.”
He managed to pick up wins against UNLV and Hawaii and finished the season with 642 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions in six appearances. He also attracted some social media attention for his wide smile during a post-game interview after the UNLV victory.
“The interviewer and people on Twitter got a crack out of how happy I seemed after my first win,” Critchlow said. “But I also made some mistakes and there’s a lot of room for me to improve.”
Critchlow, now a sophomore, has his sights set on becoming a full-time starter. He stood out during spring practice and threw for 130 yards and a touchdown during the team’s final scrimmage. But with three other guys in the mix, there are no guarantees.
“I have no right to say who’s going to get the nod right now,” he said. “I prepared as if I would be the starter every practice last year, so I’m doing the same this year. I’m excited to give it my best shot.”
If he is the underdog, it’s certainly not the first time he’s played that role – and it may not be the last. From receiving heavy interest from SEC schools in high school, to becoming a forgotten man while on his mission, to catching on with his dream school in Utah, Critchlow has yet to back down from a challenge.
“I can guarantee you that Joe will show up and do what he’s supposed to do,” Webb said. “He’s giving his best on the practice field to give himself a chance at (the job), that’s for sure.”