FAIRFIELD -- For a two-sport athlete who's built a reputation for overwhelming opponents with brute strength and speed, being characterized as a "gentle giant" could seem like a contradiction.
But that's not the case for Nick Crowle.
A hulking presence on the football field and the wrestling mat, the Fairfield Prep senior and Milford resident is described as the consummate quiet leader. Regardless of the tone or volume of Crowle's words, others listen.
"I've never heard him try to encourage somebody by yelling," says Corey Dennis, Prep's wrestling coach. "It's always been leading by example, words of encouragement, positive encouragement. ... He's not vocal in the sense that he has to ever raise his voice or beat his chest or punch lockers."
Instead, a simple glare often does the trick.
"He just has to pass a disapproving look your way and people fall in line," says Tom Shea, Prep's football coach.
Crowle's athletic abilities are known to grab others' attention, as well. Punishing opponents with his 6-foot-3, 246-pound frame, Crowle helped power the Jesuits to their first state football final in 25 years last month. A starter at both fullback and linebacker, he later took home all-state honors after scoring 18 total touchdowns.
"To be honest, I'm kind of shy in a lot of social situations," Crowle says, chuckling. "You can kind of tell that around me. But I always put my best effort out there.
"Whether it's success or defeat, the effort that I put out there, the guys can rally around."
He provided perhaps his most courageous effort in a 52-34 loss to Southington in the LL championship -- a game that became an emotional trip, Crowle says, for more reasons than its wild back-and-forth nature.
Because of a weekend snowstorm, the final was postponed three times before finally kicking off five days later on Dec. 19. It was the latest a CIAC football game had ever been played.
Crowle rushed 26 times for 178 yards and two touchdowns. He also recorded seven tackles.
"You're thinking the game is this day, this next day, so you're not in the weight room because you don't want to be sore," says Crowle, a captain for both the football and wrestling teams. "You're not conditioning because you don't want to be tired. By the time it's Thursday, we've got a week and a half of no lifting and almost a week of no conditioning."
Both physically and mentally spent, Crowle didn't get much time to rest. Less than 48 hours later he wrestled for Prep in the Fairfield Ludlowe Invitational, where he won the 285-pound division.
"Friday he was pretty bummed, but he also knew Friday that he was wrestling on Saturday," says Crowle's father, David. "It was going to be a long tournament in terms of getting there at 7:45 (a.m.) and based off last year's tournament, not leaving until 8:30 or 9 (p.m.). He knew what was ahead of him.
"With no wrestling practice, he went on the mat about 10:30 Saturday morning, hoping that his body would remember what he learned in wrestling."
Crowle won two matches after a first-round bye, pinning New Britain's Patrick Malchar in one minute in the final. He's extended his record to 7-0 this season despite taking only a breather since football.
"I'm sore, yeah. Absolutely," he says.
He doesn't intend to stop anytime soon, either. As his wrestling coach says, there's "no off-switch" for Crowle. He's undersized for his weight class, but his superior speed and athleticism have made him a top contender in the 285-pound division.
Last year, he took third place in the 285-pound bracket at the LL championships and was the fastest fall winner. He reached the third round at the State Open, but was bothered by a shoulder injury.
"When he's focused on a goal, he doesn't go 99 percent," Dennis says. "It's 100 percent all the way. Overall, it's a credit to the type of person he is. ... Everything's 100 percent."
Crowle admits that his game's still raw, but hopes to have his conditioning at an optimal level after 20 matches. Following a routine that includes meetings with a trainer three days a week and a nutritionist-recommended diet, he's adjusted to the hectic schedule.
But there have been times this year, such as in a second-period pin against Foran on Dec. 23, when his body reminded him of the physical toll it's taken.
"He (Foran wrestler) actually pushed me into the second period. I was just gassed out," he says. "That's when it really hit me. There's such a difference between being in shape for football and wrestling conditioning. Since then, I've been working much harder."
The tireless commitment has been rewarding for Crowle. This fall he'll attend Yale, where he'll play football, likely as a stand-up defensive end. And again, most won't be surprised to see Crowle leading by example.
"Nick likes to set the mood by example," says Matt Freed, a junior captain on the wrestling team. "He doesn't scream, he doesn't shout at anybody. He doesn't really command anybody. ... People like to follow him."