Notre Dame DB Shaun Crawford motivated by father, grandmother

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

Shaun Crawford started at the bottom of the hill.

He was a fifth grader, small and scrappy, and every day, Crawford’s father dropped him off at track practice. The parking lot was situated at the top of the hill, overlooking the track at the bottom. For years, Shaun ran loops around that track. He circled it like the hands on a clock — going round and round, day after day.

John Crawford watched and waited, but he never left the car.

“I never wanted to be one of those dads where he had to look over his shoulder and see what I was thinking,” said John Crawford, who arranged his shifts as a police officer around Shaun’s athletic schedule. “I would drop him off with a coach I trusted and get out of the way. He did the rest.”

‘The rest’ transcends a résumé. A multi-sport standout, Shaun excelled in track and field and football. As a freshman at St. Edward High School in 2012, he helped his team to an outdoor state title in the 4x100 relay. He was a four-year starter on the football team, leading the Eagles to another state title as a senior in 2014. The undersized defensive back stacked up 91 tackles, 17 pass breakups, seven interceptions and three forced fumbles in his senior season, while catching 54 passes for 824 yards and nine touchdowns as a receiver on the side. He was named to the Under Armour All-American team and ranked as one of the top 200 players in his class by Rivals, 247Sports and Scout.

Shaun initially committed to Michigan, then took a fateful visit to Notre Dame.

“When he stepped on campus, it was just different,” John Crawford said. “He felt like it was an extension of his high school at St. Ed’s. He just loved coach (Brian) Kelly and he loved the campus. He said it was the only place that gave him goosebumps, and that was it.”

Crawford verbally committed to Notre Dame on June 15, 2014.

Father’s Day.

How’s that for goosebumps?

“My dad never really forced me to be the player I am today. He wasn’t like that. I got my work ethic from him, though,” Crawford said last spring.

“Some days I would come up there (after track practice) and he’s asleep. Some days he’s on the phone. Some days he’s just chilling there watching. I never wanted to come up to the car and have my dad say, ‘You weren’t working hard.’ Every single day from fifth grade up, I always worked hard like my dad was watching.”

Happy Fathers Day - Truly a Blessing Here's a throwback memory pic.twitter.com/80SKF0XeO7

— CrawDad (@crawdad_66) June 19, 2016

In Cleveland I was just asked "Wasn't this Cavs win the Best Fathers Day Ever?" No, my Son committing to Notre Dame on Fathers Day is

— CrawDad (@crawdad_66) June 20, 2016

***

Shaun Crawford isn’t big on tattoos.

He only has one. He only needs one.

The words are etched into the inside of his right bicep in black ink spread across a white scroll, derived from his grandmother’s favorite Bible verse.

Psalm 121.

My help comes from The Lord.

Crawford’s grandmother, Eleanor Crawford, passed away last year following a prolonged battle with heart and respiratory diseases. A warm, loving woman, Eleanor never missed a game. When she was too sick to leave the nursing home or hospital, she watched Shaun play football on the television or computer. She made frequent calls to John Crawford, her son and Shaun’s father, for updates and analysis.

Occasionally, John would go to the hospital instead of the stadium to watch the game with his mother.

“That was very important because, not having both of them at the game, I’d know they were back home watching,” Shaun said.

“It would perk her up a lot to see him doing well,” John added. “It meant a lot, definitely. It motivated her to be up and around, to be able to watch him.”

She’s still watching, even now. And she’s still with Shaun — in his heart, and on his arm.

“It helps me, no matter what, throughout anything — in the classroom, off the field, family struggles, personal struggles,” Crawford said of the tattoo. “I can look above and I know my help is coming. Any time I’m sore after a workout or tired after getting up at 6 a.m. for spring ball, it’s like, ‘OK, I have help with me. I’m good. I’ve got my grandma with me. I’ve got the Lord with me. No matter what, I can get through it.”

Notre Dame defensive back Shaun Crawford got a tattoo on his right arm as a tribute to his late grandmother (SBT Photo/Mike Vorel).

***

In his first year in South Bend, Crawford’s had a few things to get through.

After surging up the depth chart at the nickelback position during his first fall camp at Notre Dame, Crawford tore his ACL in August. His freshman season was over before it started. He watched his teammates topple Texas from a lonely hospital bed.

“I knew how much he wanted it and how much work he was putting in,” John Crawford said, “so that was a huge setback for him.”

And yet, his teammates helped him through it, particularly defensive backs Matthias Farley and KeiVarae Russell. His parents helped him through it. His coaches and trainers helped him through it.

His grandmother helped him through it, her memory etched into his arm.

“She was always there for me, always looking out for me,” Shaun said. “I know she’s watching. Now she has a better view.”

In the years to come, Eleanor Crawford will see a show. Her grandson returned to practice last spring, immediately shaking off rust and reclaiming a starting job. As fall camp looms, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound sophomore is in the hunt not just to be the team’s starting nickelback, but a starting cornerback as well.

He’s undersized and inexperienced, but his motivation outweighs his flaws.

“I think Shaun Crawford can be one of the best DBs to come out of Notre Dame in a while,” said Farley, now with the Arizona Cardinals, who Crawford lovingly calls Uncle Matthias. “He has a motor on him that doesn’t stop. He wants it. He’s hungry. He’s smart.

“He has a knack for making plays. I think wherever you put him — at nickel, at corner or at safety, wherever it is — he’s going to find the ball and he’s going to make something happen.”

Crawford’s first opportunity to do so will come on Sept. 4. When Notre Dame opens its season at Texas, Crawford will be there. So will his father, John, and his mother, Sabrina. His grandmother will be there, too.

My help comes from The Lord.

Crawford will run out of that tunnel inside Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium on his surgically repaired knee, with nearly 100,000 burnt orange fans booing the enemy's arrival. He’ll take deep, calming breaths, but his heart will outrace his feet. He’ll look up and see his father, still watching from above.

It started at the bottom of the hill. In some ways, he never left.

“My dad didn’t push me hard, but I pushed myself so he didn’t have to,” Shaun said. “Every day at practice, I imagine him on the fence watching or on the track, watching. I want him to see me go hard every single play. I want to make him proud.”

Notre Dame defensive back Shaun Crawford with his father, John, and his mother, Sabrina (Photo courtesy John Crawford).
Shaun Crawford with his grandmother, Eleanor Crawford, who passed away last year (photo courtesy John Crawford).

mvorel@ndinsider.com

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Shaun Crawford runs drills during Notre Dame spring football practice on Friday, April 1, 2016, inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex at Notre Dame in South Bend. Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ