Role players, by definition, tend to fly under the proverbial radar, particularly an understated defender on a football team that averages 54 points per game. But for these unsung heroes, there’s more than meets the eye.

Take, for instance, Jacob Crowl. At first glance, Crowl seems a little shy and quiet, but he’s fun and energetic once you get to know him.

An even closer look, however, reveals the primal side of the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Cascade Christian senior: a highly physical athlete who loves wrestling, basketball and taking on anyone who wants to test his strength.

“I’m a really loving person, but you can definitely get me fired up and I’ll knock heads and go at it,” said Crowl, whom his friends dubbed Wormie on the basketball court because of his ability to wiggle past people. “I want to be there for everyone that I can, but when it’s time to go, it’s time to go.”

That readiness and love of contact has served Crowl well throughout his youth football career, including three years as a starting cornerback on varsity.

Crowl’s extensive experience in the secondary has allowed him to develop into the Challengers’ lockdown defensive back, shadowing the opposing team’s top receiver, often playing on an island.

“It’s been nice for me to know (the coaches) count on me in a way and I can trust them and they can trust me,” said Crowl, who hauled in his first interception of the season in last week’s Class 3A state playoff opener against Willamina, a 52-3 victory. “It’s a lot of stress to be out there in that spot sometimes, but at the end of the day it’s just fun to be out there and do my job and I’ll just keep it up for them.”

Friday night’s quarterfinal game against Harrisburg at U.S. Cellular Community Park figures to present a good challenge for Crowl: Harrisburg’s Will Downs, a second-team all-state receiver from last year’s state championship team, is “one of the best wide receivers in the state,” Challengers coach Jon Gettman said.

“He’s one of the best in 3A, there’s no doubt to that. He’s highly respected,” Crowl said. “We know we have to be able to shut him down in order to play a good game. I’m fired up. I’m ready.”

Crowl and his fellow defenders also will be tasked with slowing down one of the better running backs in the state, Harrisburg’s Gabe Knox, Mountain Valley Conference offensive back of the year.

Knox, a sophomore, rushed for 129 yards on 21 carries last week as the 12th-seeded Eagles knocked off No. 5 Amity, 42-34, in the playoffs’ opening round.

“They’ve found their groove and their identity with the ball the last few weeks,” Gettman said. “They’re not one-dimensional. There’s a number of things you have to take into account and try and slow down and then go from there.”

Still, Harrisburg (5-5) figures to be a massive underdog against No. 4 Cascade Christian (9-1); earlier this season, the Challengers won 50-26 in a nonleague game at Harrisburg.

“I know what they’re capable of and if we doubt them, I know they can beat us,” Crowl said. “We’re ready for that challenge and we just want to give it our all and do our best.”

If the Challengers and their high-octane offense are going to take the next step in the playoffs, it will be because of their improved defense and players such as Crowl who yearn to improve.

“For us, (senior quarterback) Haiden (Schaan) has really done a great job of leading the offense. But the defense has definitely picked up the offense,” Gettman said. “You’re gonna have a game where your offense doesn’t score much and you’re gonna have to win the game on the defensive side of the ball.”

In fact, the Challengers’ offense has such great depth that Crowl, a backup running back, doesn’t see many touches despite averaging about 7 yards per carry.

Being a consummate team player, Crowl is pleased to step in wherever and whenever he’s needed — be it on the field or during a team function — and make the most of his opportunities, no matter their frequency or lack thereof.

“He’s just such a consistent kid,” Gettman said. “You know he’s always going to be there and you can count on him.”

“He doesn’t do anything super flashy. It’s not like he’s the greatest athlete,” he added. “He cares about the team and doing things for his teammates, which makes it a great blessing to coach him.”

Crowl’s love of football developed at an early age, watching San Francisco 49ers games with his dad. His favorite players are running backs: a Chicago Bears Hall of Famer, the late, great Walter Payton; and a certain future Hall of Famer, current Arizona Cardinals tailback Adrian Peterson.

In terms of cornerbacks, the Washington Redskins’ Josh Norman is the player whom Crowl most admires.

“I like how he’s not afraid to stand up to people and he’s a really physical person,” he said. “He likes to get into it.”

That sounds a lot like Crowl, who knows that the Challengers will go as far as their defense takes them.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but it’s our job,” he said. “I know that we have to stop teams in order to go down and win. We’re capable of doing that.”

“I like where we’re headed (to) and hopefully we can end in that top spot,” he added. “This year’s team is just really connected and strong and I know they’ll fight until the last second.”

— Reach reporter Mike Oxendine at 541-776-4499 or moxendine@mailtribune.com