NEW HAVEN - In seventh grade, most boys watch movies about action heroes, collect baseball cards and awkwardly flirt with girls.

Nick Crowle dreamed about going to Yale.

“I’m from Milford and I wanted to go to Yale since I was in seventh grade,” Crowle said after a recent Yale football practice. “This has been a lifelong goal and dream of mine and getting to live it out, it’s pretty amazing.”

For the past two seasons, Crowle, a 6-foot-3, 280-pound junior-to-be defensive lineman who attended Fairfield Prep, has lived the Yale dream, only the time on the football field has been like more of a nightmare than a fantasy come true. Injuries have limited his playing time over his initial two seasons but now, finally healthy, Crowle is determined to make his mark to become a big-time Ivy League player.

When he first arrived at Yale after a stellar career at Prep where he did double duty as middle linebacker and fullback, Crowle was moved to defensive line and earned a starting position as a true freshman.

“He started in ’14 as a for us, started our opener against Lehigh and played well and then started against Army in the (Yale) Bowl and got hurt in that game and missed the rest of the season,” Yale head coach Tony Remo said. “So, he got a medical redshirt. Last year, he played really well, had some nicks and bruises last year but played through a lot of things.”

What Crowle played through was mono, missing just two games despite losing close to 20 pounds and battling fatigue and sickness.

“There’s been a lot of adversity my first two years. I started as a freshman and got hurt (high ankle sprain) and missed the rest of the season,” he said. “Last year, I played really well the first game, started feeling sick and as it turns out, I had mono. I dropped 20 pounds within a week, between Week 2 and Week 3, I went from 278 pounds to 257 pounds and I played the rest of the year right around 260. That was a struggle.”

But Crowle battled through it as Yale finished 6-4 last season. While the ankle is still not quite 100 percent - and most likely won’t ever be due to scar tissue around the injury - he’s healthy enough to know that this season (if he stays healthy) could be a breakout one.

“I’m really excited about his future,” Reno said. “He’s moving really well and playing with a lot of aggressiveness. We have a saying at Yale, ‘Grow or Die’ and Nick has really grown as a player. That encompasses the physical end of it and the mental part, and he’s letting himself go. D linemen play with a lot of passion and he’s showing that right now.”

Last season, Crowle played in eight games, totaling 25 tackles (13 solo) and posted two tackles for loss with a season best performance (seven tackles) coming against Penn.

“This year for me, it’s all about producing,” he said. “These first two years I’ve provided some solid play but I don’t think I did anything special. This year, I want to be a playmaker and help this team win games.

“I think the number one thing I bring is relentless energy, relentless physicality. I play low, I play hard, I’m always going to come after you, that’s what I bring to the table. Now, I’m just working on my finer pass rush moves, working on technique, getting in the right position on run blocks, fine-tuning my game to become a truly dominant player.”

Not only over the course of fall practice has Reno seen a more aggressive Crowle, he’s also seen leadership - something he was expecting at this stage of his collegiate career.

“Nick has a lot of roots in the state of Connecticut and he’s got a lot of pride being a Connecticut-bred kid. He’s takes it to heart,” Reno said. “I’ve seen some great leadership from Nick. He might have wanted to say some things as a freshman but kind of sat back, now he’s showing leadership. I’m seeing a lot of ability with how he practices and the way he treats others.”

Crowle is majoring in political science although he’s not quite sure in what direction his future lies.

“Honestly, I don’t really know,” he said. “This summer I had an internship at PFP Services, which is a life insurance agent (in Orange), so I had a really good time there but I’m still wide open to any possibilities.

First and foremost, however, before the career starts, is getting his degree.

“We talk about 4 for 40. We come here for four (years) we work hard with football but then the next 40 years, that degree means a lot,” Crowle said. “It’s been unbelievable experience to be here. Between the academic life, football, it’s a truly remarkable place to be.”