Scott Crichton can't wait to step back onto the football field.
Forced to sit out spring practice after undergoing labrum surgery in February, Crichton is finally healthy and eager to spearhead a surging Oregon State defense towards greater heights in 2013.
"I'm good to go and ready for fall camp," Crichton told BeaverBlitz.com recently. "I should be 100 percent before the first game. It was definitely frustrating (to sit out spring practice). I love competition. I just want to be the best out there.
"It was unfortunate I had to sit out. But it was a learning experience for me. I took mental reps and got the plays down even more and helped my teammates out with the defense. So, it was a good deal."
Established as one of the best defensive ends in the Pac-12 conference, if not the nation, Crichton, together with fellow defensive end Dylan Wynn, outside linebackers Michael Doctor (OSU's active leader in tackles with 172) and D.J. Alexander and cornerback Rashaad Reynolds, form the nucleus for an Oregon State defense that displayed remarkable progress a year ago from an abysmal 2011.
The Beavers' defense yielded 67.3 fewer rushing yards and 57.2 fewer total yards per game in 2012 than the previous season, as well as 34 fewer total first downs despite playing one additional contest. The 268 total points allowed was just one more than the school record for a 13-game season (2002).
As good as the Oregon State defense performed in 2012, the 6-foot-3, 260-pound Crichton confidently declares the best is yet to come for the Beavers, which won six more games in 2012 than all of the previous season, the biggest one year improvement in school history.
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"Man, we want to go as far as possible," Crichton said. "The sky is the limit for us. We're thinking Rose Bowl, anything above what we did last year. We're thinking greater."
Crichton enters the 2013 campaign with 32 tackles for loss and 15 sacks in his first two years in a Beavers uniform, tying him for sixth with Derrick Doggett (2004-07) and seventh with Dorian Smith (2006-07) on OSU's all-time lists in each category, respectively.
Crichton, though, hasn't focused for a microsecond on individual accomplishments since last season concluded with the disappointing Alamo Bowl loss to Texas in San Antonio.
"Over here, we're all about effort," he said. "We're fanatical about our effort and that's what our coaches emphasize. We don't really have to be playmakers or five-star athletes. If you run to the ball, that will make a difference. Know the plays, execute your assignment and give fanatical effort."
Accentuating team goals causes Crichton, one of only two underclassmen last year to be voted first team All-Pac 12 on defense, shrugging off the pre-season accolades tossed in his direction, including selections to the prestigious Watch Lists for the Bronko Nagurski (top defensive player), Bednarik Award (top defensive player) and Lott Trophy.
"I don't really care that much (about personal recognition)," Crichton said. "It's an honor to be on those watch lists, but I just care about this team winning right now. We've grown up a lot in the past few years since I've been here. We're bonding and doing everything right as a team. I just want to see this team succeed. I really want a bowl win. That will be better than any individual accolades."
Nonetheless, as long as the Tacoma, WA native increases his numbers in both categories from last season, he'll become just the fourth player in school history with 50 or more tackles for loss and only the third defender with 25 or more sacks, putting him in Beaver royalty.
Like any great competitor, though, Crichton takes nothing for granted or assumes he will magically boost his numbers in 2013 without putting in the hard work needed to achieve his goals.
"I need to improve on everything, basically my overall game and my sense of the opponent's offense and getting formations down," Crichton said. "Working everything. I did pretty well last year, but I think I can do better. If I fix the little things, everything will fall into place."
Right now, Bill Swancutt (59.5 TFL and 37 sacks from 2001-04) is the lone Beaver to ever surpass 50 tackles for loss and 25.5 sacks in a career. Crichton could join him in that exclusive club by the conclusion of the upcoming season.
Crichton already owns the OSU record for most forced fumbles in a single season - six in 2011 en route to gaining Freshman All-America recognition from multiple national media outlets.
At the moment, however, Crichton's major goals for the next few months are impossible to quantify.
"Individually, I just want to be healthy right now," Crichton said. "I just got off my shoulder surgery, so I'm just focusing on getting healthy and getting back into the grind."
Crichton and Wynn combined for 93 tackles, 19.5 tackles for loss and 10 sacks a season ago, with Wynn actually registering more total tackles (49) than Crichton (44). Almost 40 percent of Crichton's tackles produced lost yardage, though, compared to 4 percent for Wynn.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," Crichton responded when asked if he and Wynn were perhaps one of the top defensive end combinations in the Pac-12. "I don't think Dylan and the D-tackles get enough credit for what they've done for me. It all goes to them too, not just me.
"Dylan is definitely underrated. In my opinion, everybody on our defense is underrated. I give all of these guys a lot of credit. Very few of us were big-time recruits coming out of high school. But they put in the work. None of them are prima donnas or cocky. They're great people too. I give them a lot of credit."
After two outstanding seasons in Corvallis, has Crichton secured such a solid reputation that opposing defenses are likely inclined to run plays away from his defensive end spot this season?
"I hope not. I hope they don't run away from me," Crichton laughed. "We'll see what happens. I know we're going to have a great defense. We're going to pick it up from last year when we had a good defense."
Crichton and the Beavers defense suffered through difficult growing pains in 2011 before taking major strides forward last season.
"We're going to have a better defense this year," he said. "We definitely have the talent. But now we have the experience too. Some of us have two or three years under our belt, so we have chemistry within our defense. By our first game, we should be solid.
"We're going to step it up another notch this year."