When the Ottawa REDBLACKS announced their final roster for the 2023 CFL regular season, 24-year-old Dustin Crum had made the team, but he was a man completely buried on their quarterback depth chart. When their well-paid starter, Jeremiah Masoli, suddenly wasn’t ready to start the season, Crum was slotted in as the club’s third stringer – the backup to the backup.
By Steve Warne
Photography by Freshh Anderson
So it was highly doubtful that Crum would see any action at all. But stranger things have happened. And, as it turned out, a lot of strange things did happen.
Nick Arbuckle got first crack at starting for Ottawa, but by the second half of week two, the REDBLACKS changed gears and handed the ball to Tyrie Adams. Adams got the start in the club’s third game, and Crum was already elevated to number two on the depth chart. Adams looked quite good in a 26-7 win over Edmonton but finished the game with a torn ACL that ended his season.
So, at that point, Crum appeared to be the next man up. But that week during practice, Masoli was suddenly cleared to start his first game in a year. After all that time trying to recover from a leg injury last year, Masoli almost immediately suffered another one. This time, without taking contact, it was a season-ending achilles injury early in their July 8th loss to Hamilton.
At that stage, REDBLACKS head coach Bob Dyce had to turn to Crum. And the Kent State grad with the Aerospace Engineering degree almost engineered an impressive comeback. Then the following week, down 25-6 with under three minutes left in the game, Crum helped complete an even wilder comeback, beating the powerhouse Blue Bombers 31-28 in overtime.
So it’s high time we got to know a little more about Dustin Crum, the rocket scientist whose CFL career has suddenly blasted off in 2023.
Crum sat down for a late August Zoom call with FACES, wearing a comfortable red hoodie and sporting a haircut that Tommy Shelby might order up in Peaky Blinders (Crum’s favourite TV show). Crum spoke about life growing up in Grafton, Ohio, the football journey that brought him to the CFL, and his unexpected ascension to the starter’s role in the Capital.
You started the year fourth on Ottawa’s depth chart. If we were able to speak to the Dustin Crum of two or three months ago, what would that guy say about where you are now?
He probably wouldn’t believe you, to be quite honest with you.
I mean, it’s been crazy, to say the least. I felt like I had a decent training camp, but I felt like a lot of the other quarterbacks did as well. So it was hard to truly separate yourself. Especially as a third or fourth guy, you’re getting pretty limited reps.
And then going into the first preseason game, I didn’t get to go in at all. I didn’t get a single snap. And then I didn’t know if I was going to be cut or what was going to happen exactly. So that second preseason game, I kind of just went with a mindset to have fun, enjoy every snap, and just leave it all out there on the field. And I feel like I had a decent game.
And obviously, I got to stick around and tried to get better, week in, week out. And then, because of guys getting banged up, the opportunity just came and I’ve just been trying to take advantage of it ever since.
In your first CFL game, you came in against Hamilton and you got stopped at the goal line as the clock ran out. And then, just one week later against Winnipeg, you get a chance to relive almost the exact situation. But this time, you win. So it’s your first win, one of the craziest comebacks ever, and you bury the disappointment from the week before. That must have been a really gratifying moment for you.
Without a doubt. I can truly say it was one of the few moments in my sports career like that. I feel like usually you’re kind of just in the moment you’re playing and you’re just reacting to what’s happening around you.
But like you said, coming off that Hamilton game the week before, I had this vivid thought as I headed to the goal line. I was probably around the seven yard line when I thought, “Not again.” And I kind of just put my shoulder and my head down and I was like, “I’m getting in this end zone. I don’t care what happens, we’re finding a way in there.”
I squared it up and tried to get as much of my weight as I could going forward and was able to push my way into the end zone and kind of right that wrong from the week before.
So now that you’re suddenly the starting quarterback, our readers would love to learn a little bit more about you. Tell us a little about your family.
My mom and dad (Amy and Scott) are back in Grafton, Ohio. I have an older brother who’s 27 and married, and two little sisters who are 15 and 14.
Was it a football family?
Definitely a football family. I went to the same high school (Midview High School) my dad did. My whole family played there. My brother, my uncle, my cousins. My dad was one of the high school team coaches. So I was kind of the ball boy growing up and got to travel and ride the bus with the team and all that. So all those guys when I was a little kid were my heroes and that was all I wanted to do.
Then I got to high school and actually I got to play for my dad. He was our offensive coordinator and quarterback coach. Obviously, being a teenager, we would butt heads sometimes, but I’m definitely very thankful for it and, if I could go back, I wouldn’t change it in any way.
Were you always a quarterback or did you start out at another position?
I played defense every now and again. And if you see me play, I’m not like most quarterbacks that slide or avoid contact or that kind of thing. And my dad and my brother actually played defense.
I’ve always liked the physicality of the game so if I had the skill set to play defense, I think honestly that’s what I would have played. I was always just better at quarterback. So since about the third grade, that’s what it ended up being.
Now that you bring that up, a lot of fans do worry that when you run, and you run a lot, you rarely slide. Did your dad or the REDBLACKS coaching staff ever get in your ear about doing more to avoid getting hit?
Yeah, it’s definitely an ongoing conversation. It’s something I try to keep in mind. It’s something that I do try to do. Be aware of knowing when to avoid those hits and those collisions. I mean, when you have that ability and you do run, every once in a while you’re gonna take a hit. I’ve always been fairly decent at kind of avoiding the direct hits, straight on and all, all those ones that really kind of take a toll.
I think I’ve probably taken a few more than I would say is normal for me, just because there’ve been so many situations where it’s almost like, the end of the game has kind of come down to me running – on the goal line or big first downs or things like that.
I’ve always felt honestly like some of the worst hits I’ve taken have been where I’ve given myself up or slid and a guy still decides to hit me. Because in that situation you’re kind of putting yourself at their mercy and you’re a little bit more in a relaxed state to where those hits can, I feel, cause a little more damage.
So you parted company with the Chiefs last August. When did Ottawa and the CFL come into the picture?
In my junior year of college, actually. The REDBLACKS tagged me on a tweet and I saw they had claimed my CFL rights.
Then last year, two hours after I got let go by the Chiefs, my agent called me and told me another CFL team was reaching out to see if I’d be willing to come up for the rest of the (2022) season. We obviously had to contact Ottawa first and see if they still wanted me or if they were going to let me go to another team. And Ottawa still wanted me. Four or five days later, I drove up here to Canada for the first time in my life and got to see what it was like for the last five or six weeks of the season.
How would you describe this REDBLACKS team?
I would say resilient would be one of the first words that comes to mind. A lot of our (recent losses in August) have been close and it’s hard to not let those kinds of games break you in a lot of ways. I think a lot of that is attributed to the kind of culture that Coach Dyce has established.
But I would also say there’s still major steps to take as a culture and learning how to win. Because that is a major thing, taking those steps in learning how not to beat ourselves or make mistakes that can be so costly. But definitely, this group has so much talent and definitely has the character that’s going to fight to the end.
How is Ottawa treating you? Have you found anything fun to do here?
Yeah. I would say I spend probably most of my time out to eat with a bunch of my teammates. Me and Jaelon Acklin have been trying out diners in Ottawa and rating them and stuff. So we’ve been having fun doing that.
Jaelon’s a character, isn’t he?
He is for sure. He’s a fun one to play with, but he’s one of those guys that I love having next to me in the fight.
Has he dragged you into his love of video games yet?
A little bit. During camp, Jaelon was trying to find someone to play Rocket League with him, one of his games. And so he dragged me into that a little. I probably hadn’t even touched a video game in two or three years because during COVID, I actually taught myself how to play guitar. And so usually most of my free time I’m doing that. Or just relaxing, watching a movie or something.
Are Ottawa fans beginning to recognize you on the street yet?
For the most part, I’ve been pretty anonymous. But after the Winnipeg game, I was wearing REDBLACKS gear and walking back to my apartment, and this guy came up to me and he was like, “Oh, man, what a game.” And I said, “Yeah, it was an awesome one.”
And he says, “Man, that new quarterback’s pretty good, isn’t he?” I was like, “Yeah, he is. He’s all right. He’s not too bad.”
So, yeah, I’ve actually had one or two instances like that where I had fun with it, talking to them like I didn’t know who they were talking about. So it was kind of funny.
If Dustin Crum continues the football trajectory he’s on, he’s not likely to go unrecognized in Ottawa for very much longer.