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irish insider

Shaun Crawford’s comeback mindset is emblematic of 2019 Irish team

| Monday, September 2, 2019

Just one summer ago, the Irish were coming off a near playoff season. After a debilitating loss to Miami at Hard Rock Stadium in November 2017 that squashed their playoff hopes, Notre Dame entered the 2019 season prepared to make a statement. And in the coming months, they certainly did.

After an undefeated season which featured wins over five nationally ranked teams, the Irish fell to No. 2 and eventual national champion Clemson 30-3 at AT&T Stadium in the 2019 Cotton Bowl. The Irish had taken a step up, but they had fallen just short of a monumental comeback, and the quest for a national championship in the modern college football era remains elusive.

Zachary Yim | The Observer

Irish cornerback Shaun Crawford adjusts his helmet during Notre Dame’s 24-16 win over Ball State on Sept. 8 at Notre Dame Stadium.

But the Irish are poised for yet another comeback, and who better to serve as an emblem of such a comeback than graduate student cornerback Shaun Crawford? Crawford, who has seen only minimal action for the Irish, was rated the sixth cornerback nationally on rivals.com’s 250 list coming out of high school. He was the 13th-ranked athlete on ESPN’s 300 list after his senior year of high school. He was a clear sensation at cornerback. And yet, every year, it seemed as if happenstance injuries plagued his potential.

In his freshman year, he suffered a torn ACL that resulted in season-ending knee surgery. In his sophomore year, he started the first two games but tore his Achilles during Notre Dame’s win over Nevada in week two. And last year, heading into his senior year, Crawford suffered a knee injury before the first game of the year.

And yet, after a near-victorious season, Crawford is back and unfazed by his past. His drive to carry Notre Dame’s defense, and the Irish as a whole, to a successful season is emblematic of a hungry team that’s determined to reach higher despite losing a number of payers to the 2019 NFL Draft.

“When the injury happened, [head coach Brian Kelly] gave me time to just think about it and just talk to my family,” Crawford said. “Just who I am, [quitting football] just never came to mind, just giving up. … It never crossed my mind just to give up what I’ve been working for my entire life.

“My family has always been behind me, my teammates have always been behind me … and so we just decided to attack [the injury] and look at it as just another thing I could get over. We’ve been through it before, so we know that it wasn’t the end of the world, it was just going to be another bump in the road. It’s something that we had to do. It’s something that we just had to take advantage of and just get with the strength staff and the nutritionist.”

Much of Crawford’s will to trudge on is a result of his relationship with the Notre Dame football coaching staff. And that relationship seems a two-way street — especially considering Crawford was named a starting cornerback for Monday night’s game against Louisville, to the surprise of many. Crawford spoke about the staff’s confidence in him after all of these years.

“I talk to the coaching staff pretty much every day, just about how I’m feeling,” he said. “At camp, we communicated that this was going to be a competition between me and a few other guys. And so … I didn’t take anything for granted. I came in each and every day, tried to prepare my body as much as I could just to perform at the highest level that I could. With that, the coaches felt that I was prepared to take the starting role. … Each guy behind me is very capable of being a starter. And so I’m just thankful that they named me starter, and I’ll take that and just keep going to work every day like I have.”

Heading into camp this summer, coming off the third major injury in his Notre Dame career, Crawford said his main focus was to remain confident and trust himself.

“Going into camp, [I wanted to] remain confident and trust the work that I put in,” he said. “And I felt like everything other than that was just going to play out,” he said. “Trying to just stay focused on the moment and not thinking about days ahead or weeks ahead. Especially just with injuries and my past, I just try to take it one day at a time, one rep at a time, and then just trust the commitment that I’ve put in with the training staff. And [I] just believe that it’s my time, and I’m meant to be here. With that being said, my main goals are just to show up each and every day ready to work, just try to remain healthy — do the things that I can to remain healthy — and then just to be a pivotal piece for this team, and just to play hard, really.”

Nevertheless, Crawford doesn’t look at all of last year in a negative light. Despite being sidelined during the College Football Playoff, he said he benefited from being able to work with the coaches and being alongside his teammates from the sideline.

“I think last year helped me personally, because I was able to help coach the guys up and just be around a winning football team,” he said. “And so being able to see that is just going to help me carry this on with a new group of guys. And they’ve been there before, so they’re going to help me as well, and seeing what it’s like to go 12-0, and what it’s like to play in the College [Football] Playoff. I was there watching it, but those guys are going to help me along, to just actually guide me along the way. Like I said, we had a great season last year. It didn’t end the way we wanted it to end, so we’re just going to keep going each and every day and just build off of last season.”

Heading into this season, Crawford feels his own personal quest for a successful season is inherently tied to the team’s success as a whole, and said he looks forward to the team’s units working in tandem.

“I feel like everything ties together,” he said. “For me to succeed this year, we’re going to need great pressure from our defensive line, our linebackers to just fill the right holes, and then just for us as a whole, the defensive backs, to just communicate. … The offense — when they have long drives, it helps us on defense, and just things like that. The defense is going to help the offense, the offense is going to help us. So, I think it all ties together. What we’re just trying to do is win a national championship.”

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