Notre Dame's Shaun Crawford Continues Fighting Irish Spirit
The Sept. 2 opener at Louisville was the Labor Day holiday, but for fifth-year senior cornerback Shaun Crawford it was far more like Thanksgiving.
Sidelined all of 2018 with his second ACL tear, and shelved also all of 2015 (first ACL tear) and all but the first five quarters of 2016 (Achilles tear), Crawford’s 59 snaps on defense versus Louisville — plus starting on kickoff coverage and punt returns — are a blessing unto itself.
“My No. 1 goal, no matter how I play, no matter the outcome, it’s just walk off the field healthy and just to be able to contribute any way that I can,” said Crawford while meeting with the media for the first time this year after Tuesday's practice.
The starting nickel for the 10-3 team in 2017 when he was a top playmaker and totaled 408 snaps on defense (about 31 per game), Crawford said his perseverance and resilience to return for a fifth season this year is his way of paying back his family, friends, teammates, training and medical staff, and coaches who have stood by him through all the heartbreaking setbacks.
“I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I had to come back in the spring to graduate, so I felt like I was going to be here anyway. I might as well rehab my butt off and pay it back to all those people who helped me get to this point.”
He thought about his mother, who regularly in the mornings sent him messages to let him know she was working out. He also thought about his father, who would take time off from work to drive him to and from practices in his younger days.
“If they didn’t give up [on me], or if they took a day off, I wouldn’t be here today,” Crawford reflected.
More inspiration came after the ACL tear last August during the preparation for the opener versus Michigan.
“There wasn’t one person on the team that said, ‘maybe this isn’t it,' or 'you should give it up,’” Crawford said. “It was all like, ‘All right, you’ll be back next year and we can’t wait to see you play.’ And the same from the coaches. When you have the support like that, there’s no negative energy in the air. It was easy for me to just keep going.
“I don’t know the future so I just usually take it day by day. I do know what happened in the past that I came back from two, so why can’t I come back from three? Throughout the whole process my family, my friends, coaches, teammates just helped me through it.”
Also motivating was seeing the Fighting Irish advance to the four-team College Football Playoff last year.
“I wanted to be part of that,” he said.
This spring, while Troy Pride Jr. had one of the corner spots locked down, sophomores Houston Griffith and TaRiq Bracy were vying for the spot opposite him, with senior Donte Vaughn expected to also compete after recovering from shoulder surgery. Crawford continued to bide his time while in rehab.
Crawford’s original role once he returned to August training camp was as the utility man at corner, nickel and even safety. The more he repped, the more the staff realized they couldn’t keep him off the field because of his combination of instincts, playmaking skills and continued fearlessness.
“Anytime on the field, I feel like if I’m worried about injuries then I’m hurting the team,” Crawford said. “If I’m going to be out there, I need to focus on playing fast, contributing and helping the team. I don’t fear [more injuries] because I don’t know the future. The plays I got hurt on in the past were routine plays and I can’t do anything about it now. If I were to go out there and be hesitant, then yeah I probably will get hurt [again].”
At the same time, cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght also has monitored Crawford’s practice reps closely. In 2017, Crawford began to feel his body break down in the final month of the season, so he is trying to be proactive with strength and conditioning coach Matt Balis from preventing such a repeat..
“I talked to Coach Balis and his staff already to keep pushing and not pulling back while in the off season,” Crawford said. “I try to get in a couple of extra sets for legs because I know my body needs it and it will help me later on in the season.”
Crawford has also heeded Lyght’s caution about playing smart with the more limited work he might have in practices.
“That’s tough, though, because in practice I want to get as many reps as I can just to prepare for the game — because I don’t have as many reps as the other guys in games,” he noted. “I just have to be smart with it. Being in my fifth year, the coaches have trust in me.”
Crawford also has a sixth season of eligibility if he wants it in 2020, but without hesitation he says he does not plan to use it.
There is enough thanksgiving just to be able to take the fifth.