Todd Lyght ran down his roster on National Signing Day, talking mostly about new blood.
There were the four freshmen who started last season and a fifth who might this fall. There were a couple safeties who signed, including an early enrollee. There was a look at the next recruiting cycle, where Notre Dame already has a pair of four-star commitments.
And then there was Shaun Crawford, the cornerback advertised as the next-big-thing who was actually was opening night at Texas. But a week later Crawford tore his Achilles tendon against Nevada, his second season-ending injury in as many seasons.
“Shaun is such a great athlete that his body is going to be able to snap back,” Lyght said. “If you or I had that injury we’d be out for three years. A guy like Shaun, he’ll be able to come back after six months.”
Lyght was kidding. About the three years, not about the six months.
While Crawford’s training in South Bend is behind the scenes, how he prepared himself between semesters is not. And that part of Crawford’s comeback explains how there could be a comeback at all, as he’s set for a partial spring practice return.
During Christmas break back home in the Cleveland area, Crawford would drive an hour-plus each way to a facility in Cranberry, Pa., to work with Lyneil Mitchell. At Revolution Physical Therapy Crawford did double sessions, going a couple hours in the morning, breaking for lunch, then going a couple hours in the afternoon. Then it was another hour-plus drive back to Ohio.
Crawford did this five days a week, sometimes six.
“Shaun was about as good as I could ask for when he got here,” said Mitchell, whose career has crossed paths with Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu. “He was all business.”
The training program was innovative because it had to be, with Crawford not cleared for traditional running and cutting. So Mitchell would decrease the load on Crawford’s joints by creating pool workouts that mirrored football movements without stressing the body. On land, Crawford would simulate jumping without ever leaving the ground.
The theory behind Mitchell’s program was to prepare Crawford for a return to actual football movements during spring ball, which kicks off March 8. According to his father, John Crawford, the corner has been running on the anti-gravity treadmill at Notre Dame as part of his next comeback step.
“Right now he’s on pace to compete in spring ball,” John said. “It’s way ahead of schedule. We have to keep telling him to slow down and be patient.”
When spring ball opens Crawford will be almost exactly six months removed from that Achilles tear, which was surgically repaired by Notre Dame orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brian Rattigan.
“It was just a freakish thing,” John said. “I guess running track, it was already stretched. There was so much torque put on it that it just tore. We were told it was the best type to have, a clean tear. There was no shredding and they just had to reattach it.”
Crawford spent the rest of last fall helping Lyght coach the freshman defensive backs, a job well done enough that John said other parents thanked him for his son’s work.
As for the getting back on the field part, that’s what got Crawford to Revolution Physical Therapy in December and January. While there’s no guarantee the extra work will keep Crawford healthy, the belief is that mileage over the Ohio-Pennsylvania border will put the corner in position to win his old job.
“Especially kids like Shaun, there’s a different mental focus than other people,” Mitchell said. “People like him are amazing and he’s had no setbacks throughout this whole period.”
Now it’s time for another step forward.
“He’s putting in the work,” John said. “Hopefully it pays off.”