Cornerback Shaun Crawford will return to Notre Dame for sixth season

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Given what he already has given to the game and to Notre Dame, no one would have blamed Shaun Crawford for walking away.

It’s just not his way, not when there’s a chance to play in another college football game.

So, when the opportunity to return to the Irish football program for a sixth season, the 5-foot-9, 180-pound cornerback opted to extend his college career. Crawford, forced to the sideline three times by season-ending injuries and the rehab that came with them, announced Friday in a video on Twitter and Instagram that he will be back next season.

“Every single time you step out on the field, you’re getting closer to your last one,” the 22-year-old Crawford said in the video. “Knowing that, you take advantage of it. At the end of the day I felt that this was the right decision. I could only better myself, help the team. You’re going to play hard for your brother. You’re going to give it all for your brother.

“I’m looking forward to just building something special with this next group of guys that are coming in. Those are once in a lifetime opportunities, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it again for a sixth year.”

A Notre Dame spokesperson told the Tribune that Crawford’s NCAA waiver for a sixth year of eligibility received approval earlier this week. Crawford had a pretty easy argument in his favor after missing his entire freshman season in 2015 with a torn ACL in his right knee, all but two games of his sophomore season with a torn Achilles tendon in his left leg and his entire senior season with a torn ACL in his left knee.

Crawford even dislocated and damaged ligaments in his left elbow in Notre Dame’s 35-20 win over Virginia last September. That only managed to keep Crawford off the field for two more games as he fought back to finish a season on the field for just the second time in his college career. Crawford ended the season with 29 tackles, two pass breakups, one interception and one tackle for a loss in 11 games with eight starts and was given the program’s Nick Pietrosante Award for courage, loyalty, teamwork, dedication and team pride.

Crawford will bring much-needed experience to Notre Dame’s secondary in 2020. After Crawford, the oldest scholarship cornerback on the roster will be junior-to-be TaRiq Bracy. The remaining scholarship cornerbacks either redshirted as freshmen in 2019 — KJ Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford and Cam Hart — or signed with the Irish as recruits last month — Ramon Henderson, Caleb Offord, Clarence Lewis and Landen Bartleson.

Whoever Notre Dame chooses to replace departed defensive backs coach Todd Lyght will have to decide if they’re comfortable with Crawford and Bracy (5-10, 170), both smaller players at the position, being the two starting cornerbacks.

Bracy started two and played in 12 games last season. He already has played in 24 games in his first two seasons, amassing 52 tackles, seven pass breakups, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Wallace (5-10, 191) and Hart (6-3, 208) played in four and three games, respectively, last season. Rutherford (6-1, 188) didn’t see any game action.

With only Monday’s national championship game left, Notre Dame’s 2019 defense ranks fifth in the FBS in passing efficiency defense with Clemson at No. 1 and LSU at No. 7.

Crawford will be the only returning starter in Notre Dame’s secondary still on the 2020 roster. Starting cornerback Troy Pride Jr. and starting safeties Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott are off to the NFL. Senior cornerback Donte Vaughn, who started three games in 2019, also exhausted his eligibility.

Defensive coordinator Clark Lea and defensive pass game coordinator Terry Joseph will have their hands full in preparing an inexperienced secondary in 2020, but having a healthy Crawford back should make their job a bit easier.

Cornerback Shaun Crawford (right) will return to Notre Dame for a sixth season. Here he tackles Navy quarterback Malcolm Perry in the 52-20 Irish victory over the Midshipmen in November.