Crawford looks to excel on field and leave injuries behind
Elizabeth Greason | Friday, September 22, 2017
Fast and free.
It’s the mantra junior cornerback Shaun Crawford plays by. But his first two seasons at Notre Dame can be described as exactly the opposite.
Just weeks after arriving on campus his freshman year, Crawford tore his ACL in practice, sidelining him for the season.
After battling back from a season-ending ACL tear that occurred just weeks before the start of his freshman campaign, Crawford went down again, this time to a torn Achilles tendon, ending his sophomore season just two games in.
But not before the world received a glimpse of the greatness that would be forced to lie dormant for another season.
In his college debut at Texas in 2016, Crawford lit up the stat sheet, picking up five tackles — four of those unassisted — an interception with a 22-yard return and, of course, the moment any fan remembers, the 98-yard blocked extra point return to tie the game at 37 and force overtime.
“I was pretty optimistic [after the Texas game],” Crawford said. “After the first game, I was like ‘Whoa, now I’ve got all the confidence I need. I’m ready, I’m back.’ All the hard work is paying off so far, my teammates trust me and now we’re just going to get rolling and so, coming in here as a freshman, I had dreams and goals of being a freshman All-American and that was still the goal last year.”
But the unthinkable happened just a week after he tore up the field against the Longhorns. After months of rehabbing his knee, in his first game at Notre Dame Stadium, Crawford tore his Achilles tendon defending a pass against Nevada redshirt-sophomore receiver Victor Gonzalez, ending his season for the second year in a row.
“The second [injury] was rough just because I knew what I had to go through and I knew it was going to be a long road and a tough road, so I had to just accept it,” Crawford said. “The first time I didn’t accept that I was hurt. I kept thinking ‘Maybe I can come back, maybe I can come back.’ The second time I just accepted ‘I’m out for the season and now I just have to fix my mindset back on and change my goals from being all the things I wanted to do on the field,’ I had to change my goals to taking it day-by-day in the training room and trying to just get better there.
“So, that was rough for me because I had been through it already and I knew that was going to be a long eight-, nine-month process and it was brutal. But it was good for me because it allowed me to rely on my faith even more and each day. Now when I play on the field, I don’t take any day for granted.”
In 2015, when Crawford tore his ACL, he was not alone — his support system was made up of teammates Drue Tranquill and Tarean Folston, each of whom was battling back from season-ending injuries at the time.
“I was grateful to have [senior linebacker] Drue Tranquill. It sucks that he was injured, but he had been through it, so when he came and he had started rehabbing with me, he pushed me to be better,” he said. “As well as Tarean Folston. It sucks we had so many injuries that year, but we were pushing each other, we were trying to compete, trying to compete in the weight room, see what we were able to do, compete in the training room with who could get back faster with doing certain things and that just made it competitive and fun in the training room, so each and every day we would get up and be excited to work and come in. Because while our brothers were working on the field, we have to do what we can do to get back out there and be there with them.”
But the Achilles injury was another story.
“With the Achilles, I was maybe on crutches two, three-and-a-half months, so it was like I wasn’t able to do anything. I didn’t see any progress and that was the frustrating part,” Crawford said. “With the ACL, you’d go in each and every day and you’d see a little bit of progress. With the Achilles, I had the cast on forever. … I didn’t get to see any progress for two months. So, it was tough and it was just brutal, so I just had to be patient.”
There are low points in the return from any injury. But in the return from a second season-ending injury in a row, the lows get lower.
“The ACL, since it was fresh and new, I was like I need to get back fast. I need to get back to playing the game that I love,” Crawford said. “I had never sat out games, I’d never sat out a season, so that was exciting. That whole process was exciting. I saw progress every week. I had people to compete with.
“But the Achilles was rough. Especially after the great Texas game and all the goals that I had, after sitting out a year, it was like it definitely took me, personally, maybe around a month, to get going in this thing. To start actually rehabbing and fixing my mind to getting better in the training room. It was rough for me. I felt lonely, felt hopeless. It was like ‘Dang, again.’ But after that, great support from the training staff, coaches, friends, family, they pushed me and without them I wouldn’t be here today. The constant, constant positivity, motivation they give me, it was just great because there were some days where I didn’t have it. But I would look at my phone and have a text from my dad or my mom and they just inspired me and pushed me. And just seeing them happy now and seeing them make the trip to Boston College, seeing them smile, it just makes me smile — because all the hard work is paying off. They finally get to see their son playing the game.”
With Crawford back and healthy this season, he’s already made his presence known. Last week against Boston College, the Lakewood, Ohio, native intercepted two passes and recovered a fumble, resulting in a moment Crawford said was the highlight of his career thus far.
“[The best moment of my career was] after the first interception against BC, not even the interception, but just, my teammates were jumping up and down, my coaches were jumping up and down,” he said. “That really set in for me after the game. After the game, I sat down and watched it and it really set in for me how many people were there for me and how many people supported me. Not even it being about me, but through all the people who supported me, all the people who saw me through all the things that I’ve been through, they’re still behind me. That’s who I play for now. I don’t play for myself. When they’re happy, I’m happy.”
There is no denying that, while Crawford has had limited chances on the field to make an impact, he has made the most of every opportunity. His injuries have only magnified his desire to make the most of every down, whether or not he is on the field.
“What I want from myself is just to help the team out any way, whether that be off the field and just coming in at nickel or playing corner or whether I don’t play at all — if that’s the game plan that week, it doesn’t matter,” Crawford said. “I’m just trying to help the team out really and whatever I can do to do that, really, I’m willing to do it. Run to the ball, rip at the ball, interception, anything like that. But it is a total team effort.”
And when he’s on the field, all that matters is the next play. While some players returning from injury stall due to nerves about reinjuring themselves, Crawford is willing to trust his training and his health and put his pain in the past.
“I really don’t even think about the injuries, really. I know that’s probably kind of weird that you don’t think about the injuries, because you just to do,” he said. “But I trust God and I trust the training staff so much and I know that they did all that they could do to get me back out on the field healthy and 100 percent at the right time, as well. So, when I go out on the field, I don’t even think about the injuries. Because if I’m thinking about the injuries, I’m not thinking about playing. And whether it happens again or it doesn’t happen, I’m going to play fast, I’m going to give it all I can and both injuries. There is nothing I would change about the way I played those plays. It was a fluke accident. Things happen. But I’m excited, I’m ready for the season.”
And approaching the fourth game of the season, Crawford is zeroed in on doing what he does best: playing football. And playing fast and free.
“I just go out there and they prepare me well enough that I can play fast and free, and that’s what I always talk about,” Crawford said. “My dad always sends me a message before a game that says, ‘Just do you.’ So, whenever I’m out there, I just do my assignment, and I just do it fast and free.”