Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 16 of 55 SEPT. 19, 2016 17 "I didn't expect anything like that to happen. I've never had a major in- jury," he said during the preseason. "Going through that was really tough for me. I had to rely on my faith and my family. "It was tough because I had to take a step back. I was on such a high, like cloud nine going into Texas and get- ting ready to play. All my friends were going to watch, and then I'm out for the season." Crawford said his goal was never to get back for the 2016 Texas game. That would have required him to look too far into the future, a practice that was discouraged during his re- hab process. "I can't even tell you when I was really cleared," said Crawford, who made 91 tackles and had seven inter- ceptions as a prep senior. "In my mind, it was like I still had to go to rehab. I'm still going to rehab now. "It's just a long process. I think about it every day." Crawford no longer wears the bulky knee brace he sported during spring practice. Those 15 practices, though, were important from a men- tal standpoint. "With spring ball I was really unsure — I didn't know if my knee was strong enough to go. I didn't know if I was ready or back to my old self," Craw- ford said. "I was running around and a little hesitant at some things, jumping, landing, cutting, but I feel great now." Texas quarterback Shane Buechele picked on junior cornerback Nick Cole- man until Crawford replaced him and Julian Love was inserted at nickel back. It's that versatility that Kelly and de- fensive coordinator Brian VanGorder value in Crawford, who played three different positions at St. Edward, in- cluding nickel. "I can play outside and inside, and I can do multiple things," Crawford said. "I can fit on the run and blitz a little bit. My versatility fits Coach VanGorder's package and everyone around me fits the package. We're all playing fast." Kelly said after the Texas loss that Notre Dame's young secondary — which featured four players, includ- ing Crawford, making their college debuts — will only improve as the season progresses. "Moving Crawford out to corner is going to solidify things for us, and we knew the safeties were going to be young and inexperienced," Kelly said. "It's a matter of they need more time, and they're going to get better each and every week. "I'm looking at the personnel that we have, and we will evolve to putting those guys into a position that best fits their abilities. That's what we have to do as coaches. "We have to say, OK, what can these guys do and what can't they do? Let's maximize what their strengths are. In- stead of saying, 'Hey, we love this, we want to do this, we want to do that,' we can't do those things in certain situ- ations. We want to know our person- nel moving forward and accentuate things defensively that they do well." While Coleman struggled, Kelly knew he had the reliable Crawford to move to the corner spot opposite senior Cole Luke if necessary. "We're going to play Shaun Craw- ford as much as we can. If we've got to play him at corner then we'll bring somebody else on the field," Kelly said during the preseason. Even before the opener, Crawford knew he would not have any first- game jitters. While first starts are of- tentimes a daunting task for a young player, Crawford felt his knowledge of the scheme — which is notoriously difficult to pick up, players say — has helped him get on the field as an underclassman. Now, Crawford is focused on learn- ing the entire defense. "I have my position down. I feel like I had it down last year as a fresh- man, but now I want to expand my game to the defensive line, to the safeties and to linebackers," said Crawford. "I'm always willing to learn, and that's the great thing about Coach VanGorder's defense: you can always learn more. "I guess it comes from my high school coach. We played a pretty com- plex defense in high school, and it al- lowed me to move around and play different positions. That is just helping me." Crawford even considered running track at Notre Dame, but scrapped those plans after the injury. In high school, he competed in the long jump, 4x100 and 4x400 relays, and 60, 100 and 200 meters at St. Edward. As a sophomore, he ran a 10.54 in the preliminaries of the 100 meters at the Division I (largest classification) state track and field championships and then took third in the finals, clock- ing a 10.84. He also placed fifth in the 200 meters with a time of 21.95 after running a 21.47 in the prelims. He did not compete in the state meet his final two years at St. Ed's. Being dependable is the No. 1 goal for Crawford. "I want my teammates to count on me and hold me accountable," he said. "Whenever I have a chance to make a play, I want to make that play. "If I don't I'm really hard on myself, and I come back the next day and try and fix it, try and get better." ✦ Crawford Out For Season Notre Dame sophomore cornerback Shaun Crawford has had another promising season cut short. Against Nevada Sept. 10, Crawford suffered a season-ending torn left Achilles on the Wolf Pack's opening possession of the game. The injury occurred on a play during which he broke up a deep pass that initially looked like a forced fumble and recovery. It marks the second consecutive season that Crawford has gone down with a major injury. "This is like déja vu for him, really," team- mate and senior cornerback Cole Luke told members of the media after the game. "He's got a bunch of guys coming up to him saying you're going to be okay, but he's a tough guy. He knows he's going to be okay, but it's going to be rough. "It's not going to be easy getting back from this. But if anybody can do it, he can." — Matt Jones S o p h o m o r e c o r n e r b a c k / n i c k e l S h a u n Crawford suffered his second straight season ending injury during the win versus Nevada. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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