Journey leads Craig back home

The Auburn University campus baked under the June sun. The only sign of football was high school players in town for summer camp. Like thousands of other students, Craig was beginning summer classes.

Dameyune Craig had a record-setting career at Auburn

But the summer of 1996 was like no other for Craig. It was time to prepare himself for the challenge ahead. Finally, after waiting longer than he ever imagined he would have to wait, he was going to be Auburn's starting quarterback.

More than 16 years later, Craig will soon be back on the Auburn campus. Thursday night, he was named the co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach on first-year head coach Gus Malzahn's staff.

Before he became Auburn's starting quarterback, Craig had been causing murmurs of amazement at practices for three years. He could outrun most of the running backs. He had a knack for escaping seemingly impossible situations. He had a powerful and accurate right arm. Now, at last, he was going to get his chance.

Neither Craig nor anyone close to him thought it would take so long, not after a spectacular career that included two state championships at Prichard's Blount High School. But Patrick Nix had won the job in 1994 and held off Craig's challenge in 1995.

"We were winning, so I couldn't complain," Craig said. "I didn't want to interfere with that, but it was hard sometimes."

Craig's confidence and the confidence of those who knew him best never faltered. Ben Harris, his coach at Blount, knew he was sending Auburn someone special.

"His senior year, Dameyune was as good as I've seen in high school," Harris said. "He was a leader. He made everyone around him better, and that's rare for a young kid."

By the time Craig's two seasons as Auburn's starter were over, he'd established himself as one of the great quarterbacks in school history. His 3,227 passing yards in 1997 are the most in a single season in school history.

Craig still holds the Auburn record for 300-yard passing games

Despite starting just two seasons, Craig left as the all-time leader in career pass completions. He was second in touchdown passes and third in passing yards. He had six 300-yard passing games, still the most in school history. There's no telling how many honors he would have won had he not come along at the same time as Tennessee's Peyton Manning.

Tommy Tuberville, who would arrive as Auburn's head coach two years after Craig left, coached against both at Ole Miss.

"We played Peyton, and he was great," Tuberville said. "But the hardest guy to prepare for, the hardest to deal with on defense, the best quarterback we played in my time at Ole Miss, was Dameyune. He was something special."

Auburn players had immense confidence in Craig. He was an athlete so talented and a competitor so fierce that others willingly followed.

Jimbo Fisher, who as Florida State's head coach would later hire Craig to coach quarterbacks, saw it all up close.

"He was such a great player," Fisher said. "The guys believed in him, and that's the mark of a great player. He led by example. He was always where he was supposed to be, always on time, always doing things the right way."

Craig was Larry and Vivian Craig's youngest child. He was his mothers pet. He had asthma as a young child and didn't play organized football until he was in the eighth grade. His older brother, Frederick Sharpe, laughed at the memory of the little boy who wanted to play with the big boys.

"We used to rough him up," said Sharpe, four years his brother's senior. "He was always so small that we wouldn't let him play with us. He was the baby of the family, and my mom babied him a lot. He ended up being a better athlete than any of us.

Craig spent four seasons with the Carolina Panthers

"I remember one time we were playing basketball and he wanted to play. We wouldn't let him, so he got the ball and just started dribbling it. He was 10 or 11. He put it between his legs and all around. We couldn't get it away from him."

A few years later, Craig got his chance to show his brother just what kind of athlete he'd become.

"I guess the first time I realized it was when I saw him play his sophomore year in high school," Sharpe said "I couldn't believe it. It was like he was head and shoulders over everybody else."

Craig said his brother and his coach meant the most to him as an athlete who would become a champion.

"My brother influenced me a lot," Craig said. "Coach Harris threw the ball better than anybody I've ever seen. I was in a quarterback battle my 10th-grade year. He told me not to worry, that the cream would eventually come to the top. I never forgot that."

Craig didn't do everything he set out to do. He signed on with Terry Bowden's first recruiting class because he believed he could be part of a championship. He narrowly missed in 1997 when the Tigers fell 30-29 to Tennessee in the SEC Championship Game. He wanted to excel n the NFL, but he never really got the chance.

Stunned when he went undrafted in 1998, Craig signed as a free agent with the Carolina Panthers. He went to NFL Europe and was spectacular, passing for An American football record 611 yards and five touchdowns in one game. He returned to the Panthers and hung on for four years. He even played some running back, but he was never given a real shot at the starting job.

Craig thought he finally would get his chance when he signed with the Redskins and first-year head coach Steve Spurrier in 2002, but he was cut before camp. He tried his hand in the CFL and in Arena Football before returning home. All along, he knew he would one day be a coach.

Convinced he done all he could, Craig returned to Blount to coach quarterbacks on Harris' staff. After one season, he joined the LSU staff as a graduate assistant. He coached special teams with the Miami Dolphins, then went to Tuskegee to South Alabama and to Florida State.

Thursday, that journey finally brought him, his wife Neke and sons Devin Chanse and Drake Christian back to Auburn.

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This story contains material from Phillip's book, "The Auburn Experience: The History and Traditions of Auburn Athletics," published in 2004.

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