Big Ten: Michael Haynes
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Jack Crawford won't be talking trash in a British accent when he lines up at defensive end for Penn State this fall.
"I could talk in my accent, but I don't think many people would get that on the line," Crawford said. "We have one-word calls that I just give out. I don't try to make it too complicated for you Americans."
|Matthew O'Haren/Icon SMI|
|Penn State defensive lineman Jack Crawford keeps it simple.|
Penn State expects huge things this season from Crawford, a 6-5, 262-pound sophomore who dazzled in spring ball and has continued to impress in preseason camp. Penn State loses three accomplished defensive ends in Aaron Maybin, Josh Gaines and Maurice Evans, but Crawford is expected to provide continuity on the defensive line, which has become the team's strongest position group under coach Larry Johnson.
Penn State often sees young D-linemen blossom quickly, most recently Maybin last year, but Crawford's story is unique. He grew up in England, moved to New Jersey as a 16-year-old and didn't start playing football until his junior year of high school.
Crawford, who starred in basketball and also boxed as a youngster, had extremely limited football exposure in England. He enjoyed the football-themed film "Any Given Sunday," but he didn't get hooked until after watching the 2006 BCS title game between USC and Texas.
"That game had a big effect on me," he said. "It caused me to start playing more, to go out and give it a try."
Not a bad idea.
Crawford immediately caught onto the game at St. Augustine Prep and shot up the recruiting rankings. He was one of only three true freshmen to play in every game for Penn State last fall but had limited production because of the team's depth at defensive end.
Opportunity arrives this fall, and pretty much everyone at Penn State expects Crawford to answer the bell.
"He can do some things that you wouldn't expect from a guy with not a lot of experience," linebacker Navorro Bowman said. "Being on that basketball court and transferring to football and having that body, it's not hard to show what you can do. But you've got to want to do it and he wants to be the best D-end he can be. He's doing a good job of it so far."
Not surprisingly, the mental adjustment has been the biggest challenge for Crawford as he learns the game and his position. He often went to Maybin, Gaines and Evans for advice last year and also has consulted former Lions stars like Tamba Hali and Michael Haynes when they return to Happy Valley.
Nittany Lions star defensive tackle Jared Odrick is valuable resource as Crawford goes through camp.
"I knew coming here I was going to get everything I needed from scratch," Crawford said. "I guess I picked it up pretty quickly, but that's thanks to the people I had around me."
Crawford's willingness to learn has impressed defensive coordinator Tom Bradley, who recalls seeing the sophomore watching film late at night after Penn State's spring game.
"Most guys, after the Blue-White Game, they're out having fun or with their family or whatever, but he was down there looking at the film," Bradley said. "He's a dedicated guy. He's a good-looking, physical-type football player. He's got a lot of good tools. And the other thing I really like about Jack is he's got a motor.
"He wants to play."
And raise some bloody hell in the backfield.