London Calling on Crawford

The family of Penn State's British defensive end is making its way across the pond to see the Nittany Lions' showdown with No. 3 Alabama.

There is no shortage of motivation for Penn State on Saturday, when No. 3 Alabama visits Beaver Stadium. But the Nittany Lions' London-born defensive end, Jack Crawford, has just a little bit more.

That's because his mother, Janet, and older brothers Douglas and Paul, will be at the game. It will be the first time Janet and Paul have been to Penn State, and the first time they will have seen Jack play live. Douglas, the oldest of the three Crawford boys, saw Jack play two years ago, against Ohio State.

“It's a real treat,” Jack said during a conference call with reporters Wednesday. “I'm really excited to get to see them. … Hopefully it's going to be a big weekend. It's going to be their first game, so that will make it special.”

Alabama, which opened its season last Saturday with a 48-7 victory over Kent State, blitzed the Lions 24-3 last year in Tuscaloosa. Trent Richardson, starting in place of the injured Mark Ingram, the 2009 Heisman Trophy winner, rushed for 144 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

“Going down there to play Alabama early in the season, we just weren't ready for that,” Crawford said.

It was a sultry day, and in Crawford's view, “All the players were out of breath by the time we finished our warm-ups.” Then the 5-11, 224-pound Richardson, a Florida state weightlifting champion in high school, knocked them flat.

“He had a lot of yards after contact,” Crawford said. “He's a power running back. He can stay on his feet. We need to get multiple guys on him and we need to tackle him properly to get him down to the ground.”

The Lions' coaches, having seen Kent State limit Richardson to 37 yards on 13 carries, have made gang-tackling a point of emphasis in practice. And while Crawford does not often watch ESPN, he has heard Richardson's name plenty. Maybe too much.

“It definitely gets tiresome,” he said. “It gives you more inspiration, more drive to try and put a stop to that and overcome all the talk and hype.”

Crawford took up football after coming to the United States in 2005, and settling in with a family in New Jersey. He proved to be such a quick study that he became a big-time recruit, and in '08 was one of just three freshmen to see action for the Lions. A year later he recorded 5.5 sacks, but in 2010 missed three games with a foot injury and finished the season with just two sacks.

He underwent surgery in January to correct the problem. But in retrospect, he said, “I really do wish I had gotten the surgery as soon as I got injured, because ultimately I think I made things worse by continuing to play on the foot. It wasn't healed properly.”

It is now. In last week's season-opening victory over Indiana State, he said, “I felt fine. I felt perfect. There was no pain. There was nothing that made me hesitate.”

And he has all the motivation he could possibly want this week.

“I feel like this is my senior year, and having the opportunity to play pain-free is like a blessing to me,” he said. “I'm really excited for this upcoming game. Hopefully it will be a big-time game for me.”


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