Mike Clark knew nothing about Tim Croff when he first met the future Mesa Dobson High School star. He learned fast.
‘‘My son (Cauley) was at Hendrix Junior High at the time and he came home one day all excited,’’ recalled Clark, the former Dobson football coach and a current Gilbert Higley assistant. ‘‘He said, ‘Dad, dad this new kid moved in. He looks like a coach.’ ’’
“I thought ‘well, that’s too bad because we don’t look too good.’ I went and saw him wrestle a pretty good kid from Poston one day. Then I knew.’’
The junior high athlete Clark saw that day would soon be a two-way starter in football and a two-time state champion 5A heavyweight wrestler. Croff is one of nine former athletes or coaches who will be inducted into the Mesa Sports Hall of Fame for their achievements in athletics or the athletic community. The induction ceremony is set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Westwood High auditorium.
Croff, who played on both lines and was listed at 6-foot-3, 250 pounds his senior year, was an imposing figure. But he wasn’t as ready to tear into an opponent as his stature suggested.
‘‘He’s a gentle giant and is a quality person,’’ Clark said. ‘‘When he was a sophomore we put him on varsity and he was really unhappy. We talked to him about it. He wanted to be with his friends and peer group.’’
Former Dobson wrestling coach Russ Winer recalls seeing Croff show up at school one day wearing a T-shirt that identified him as the state arm-wrestling champion.
‘‘We read it over the announcements and I congratulated him on winning the teenage competition,’’ Winer said. ‘‘He said, ’No coach, it was the state open championships.’ ’’ Turns out Croff, at 15, had beaten the four-time defending state champion who was in his early 30's.
In wrestling, Croff competed at the varsity level for four years. He was brought up to varsity in ninth grade (a rare occurrence in Mesa). Croff finished in the top six in the state that season. His sophomore year he was runner-up and captured state titles in 1994 and 1995.
‘‘When he was a freshman, he was about 215 or 220,’’ Winer said. ‘‘I could beat him that year when we wrestled at practice. The next year, we were about even. The next two years, I was overmatched.
‘‘Every coach should get a chance to coach someone like Tim in their career.’’
Inducted along with Croff at Monday’s ceremony will be Mountain View’s Heidi James, Gonzaga (basketball) and Bill Faysak (football-baseball); Mesa High’s Tom Pace (football), Cary Palmer (football, baseball); and Wayne Hunsaker (football), Westwood’s Amy Tjaarda (track, softball); boxing legend Gene Lewis and Westwood and Mesa high track coach Austin McNaughton.