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Union Grove’s Craine proudly wears No. 44

Jeff Hurndon Photography
Union Grove running back Derrick Craine has rushed for 1,048 yards and 13 touchdowns in leading the Wolverines to a 3-0 subregion record.

Jeff Hurndon Photography Union Grove running back Derrick Craine has rushed for 1,048 yards and 13 touchdowns in leading the Wolverines to a 3-0 subregion record.

McDONOUGH — When Don Craine watches his son run the football for Union Grove, the comparisons are inevitable.

The way Derrick Craine follows his blocks. The way he waits until the last second to make his cut up field. The way he bursts through the secondary and into open space with deceptive speed.

And then, of course, there is the jersey number.

As Derrick Craine continues his breakout season today in a crucial Region 4-AAAAA, Div. A game against Mundy’s Mill at 7:30 p.m., he does so wearing the No. 44 and the significance it carries for the Craine family.

“It’s a family number,” Derrick Craine said.

Thank Leroy Kelly for that. That’s who Don Craine idolized growing up as a young Cleveland Browns fan. The Hall of Fame running back wore 44, so Don Craine wanted to.

Craine wore it to great success at Geneva High School in Geneva, Ohio, in the early 1970s. He played running back and linebacker, was a two-year captain, signed with the University of Pittsburgh in the same recruiting class as Heisman Trophy-winning running back Tony Dorsett and was eventually inducted into the Ashtabula County Football Hall of Fame.

So when Don’s oldest son, Jamie, joined the football team at Geneva — eventually playing for the same coach as his father, breaking Don’s single-game tackles record and earning player of the year honors — there was no question what number he wanted.

Too bad it was already taken.

“A guy had picked it ahead of me,” Jamie said. “I went to him and asked if it was OK if I could trade numbers. He said absolutely. The number didn’t mean anything to him.”

It’s meant everything to the Craines. So much that Derrick Craine’s older sister, Deanna, picked it when she played volleyball at Geneva High. Even his younger sister, Christa, 11, has her eye on it as she begins playing volleyball.

Derrick Craine already had his eye on it when he entered Union Grove. As a freshman playing on junior varsity, he was stuck with No. 34. When he joined the varsity the next season, he took it before anyone else had a chance.

“I wanted to be like my dad,” Derrick Craine said. “I just wanted to wear No. 44 to represent my dad.”

Craine is certainly living up to the number’s standard. The senior has rushed for 1,048 yards and 13 touchdowns this season on 143 carries (7.3 yards per carry), leaving him just 170 yards shy of tying his dad’s best single-season mark.

“I definitely feel I’ve got to play to my best ability,” Derrick Craine said, “because my dad’s in the hall of fame and my brother was a player of the year. I just feel like I’ve got to be a step further and be better than my dad and brother.”

Don Craine has been along for the entire ride this season. He’s seen Derrick emerge as one of the Southern Crescent’s top players. He’s watched Union Grove gradually transform from an unknown into a playoff contender that’s 6-1 overall and 3-0 in the region. He’s seen Derrick close in on his last family record still intact.

And has enjoyed every second of it.

“He knows the records that I had in high school. His main goal was to beat them, beat my rushing record,” Don Craine said. “It’s been kind of cool to sit back and watch him.”

“Each week the team and him are getting stronger and stronger. It reminds me of when I played. It’s that camaraderie between teammates.”