East Xtra: Gateway grad gains recognition as standout center for Thiel College

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Entering his senior season, Thiel College center Jason Crystol believes his Tomcats team has plenty of unfinished business to deal with following a 3-7 season that saw the team lose its first five games.

Crystol's efforts have been recognized as he's been named to the USA Football News Preseason All-America fourth team.

"It's a great honor for me and for the program," said Crystol, a 21-year-old communications major who played his high school football under Terry Smith at Gateway. "It definitely adds motivation to the way I prepared this summer and going into the season. What really matters to me is how the team ends up."

What the Tomcats were able to take from the 2013 season is that they won three of their last five games. Crystol, a 5-foot-10, 245-pound senior from Monroevlle, believes the strong finish is a nice springboard into this season.

"It also gave us the thought that we need to start faster, with a couple of wins" he said. "If we can do that, it will make the season go a lot smoother and have a winning record overall."

Thiel begins the season on the road at 7 p.m. on Sept. 6 with a game at Allegheny College.

There were some notable positives for the Tomcats in 2013 as Crystol anchored a line that allowed the running backs to rush for more than 2,000 yards.

In addition to the national accolade, Crystol earned All-Presidents' Athletic Conference honors. He has plenty of confidence in his linemates.

"Our offense is pretty solid up front," he said. "We have two starters coming back [on the line], and the other three who are filling the positions have gotten some playing time. We have a transfer from Edinboro named Gary Hiner [6-1, 300, Fr.]. We're hoping he's going to do some big things for us."

Crystol said his high school career at Gateway was a great foundation for his tenure at Thiel.

"Gateway is just a great program all around," he said. "When I played, it was still Quad-A, and I played for Terry Smith, one of the best coaches I've had in my life. He structured it to be a collegiate [type] program. He set me up to know what I had to do when I got to college."

Crystol said Thiel's quarterback, Ryan Radke, has experience. He played in nine games and started in four of them.

"He did a lot of big things, and our backfield in Josh Potter and Taylor Fink are both experienced. Our receivers, Tim Walker and Ron Howard, shape up to be pretty good."

Crystol will be quite busy trying to open holes as the Tomcats operate out of the I-formation.

"We focus on running the ball," he said.

Crystol said that for the Tomcats to be successful, there has to be a sense of urgency.

"Sometimes, we'd come out flat," he said. "If we want to win, we have to come out 100 percent, so we don't have to make it up in the second half. We need to start fast."

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