Crawford Adjusting Nicely

Though he's new to the game, South Jersey DE is adding an English beat to American football. College coaches — including the staff at Penn State — are taking notice. Crawford intends to choose a program in August. Where do the Lions stand?

Football is the premier sport in the United States and England. The big difference is that, depending on what side of the Atlantic you are on, the term “football” refers to two separate and distinct sports. For the purposes of Jack Crawford, the 6-foot-6, 250-pound defensive end prospect from St. Augustine Prep in Richland, N.J., his focus is on American football.

This despite the fact Crawford hails from England, where American football takes a back seat to soccer and virtually every other sport in the country.

Still, Crawford's recruitment gained momentum almost instantaneously, despite living in the United State for only two years and playing football for one year, and he has already become somewhat of a mythical recruit given his background. As a result, many important questions have arisen around Crawford.

Does he really have the freakish size and speed combination that has reportedly left college recruiters drooling? (Yes; refer to the list of schools that have extended him an offer and the schools that have shown him interest.)

What position is he really built for? (His preference is defensive end, but he's also lined up at wide receiver.)

Does he really speak with a British accent? (Sure does.)

Crawford, who is the youngest of three boys, has been living in New Jersey with his host family in America: Mary and Steven Dandrea. While Crawford's parents, Janet and Lincoln, are back in England and cannot see him compete on the field in America, both Mary and Steven fill that familial void.

The support Mary and Steven provide Crawford as well as the pride both have in his accomplishments is readily apparent in speaking with them. In fact, the relationship is so close that Mary even considers Crawford a son.

“We're the host family, but we feel we are related to him because he is like our son,” Mary said. “He's been here two years. When we say to Jack, 'you're going home,' it's sometimes tough to figure out whether it's here or England.”

Coming across the pond two years ago, Crawford was one of England's top basketball prospects for this age. He played on the English national team — for the team a year above his age group — for three years and traveled to the likes of Slovenia, Ireland, Germany and France to compete. But Crawford has played more than just basketball.

“I played rugby back in England,” Crawford said. “My dad made me box when I was young. I played cricket and soccer, too. Football is different, but I suppose when you like playing sports a lot, it's fun. Football is one of the most fun games I've played.”

Once in America — the famed Jersey Shore more specifically — Crawford found out he had to sit out a season for basketball. Without a sport to play, one of his high school coaches noticed Crawford's athleticism and suggested he try playing football for St. Augustine Prep.

The rest, as the saying goes, is history.

“I had a couple of coaches tell me to play football,” Crawford said. “I gave it a try. I started practicing about a half a month before the first game and I had to pick up quite a lot. I came over with the idea that I was going play basketball. I had to sit out for the whole year, so I thought I might as well do something with my time. I almost didn't play, but played in the end.”

Crawford picked up the game rather quickly.

“He played one season, his junior year,” Mary said. “They definitely noticed him right at the kickoff. He beat everyone down to the other end of the field. For him being so big, we were all amazed. He was so serious about it. He absolutely wants to win. After the first game we saw him play, I said he has promise at [football] as well.”

Crawford said he felt his natural size and speed allowed him to focus more on the mental aspects of the game. His affinity for basketball also helped him in the transition.

“I've always been fast for my size,” Crawford said. “My strength is my speed. Even in basketball, I played [the] three [position] because I'm faster than most of the people my size. I can hang with some of the smaller guys. It's really just my speed. I'm a big guy that can run, and it turned out to be a good thing. Picking up the game wasn't hard. It was a matter of listening to my coaches. I just learned the game and it's fun. When you want to do it, it's easier to learn.”

But where does Crawford see himself playing at the next level?

“My first game I hit a couple of people and the crowd was interested,” Crawford laughed. “I play wide receiver and defensive end. It was good because wide receiver, it's natural movements like in basketball. It's just like going up for the ball like in basketball. At [defensive] end, it's just hitting the quarterback. I like doing that the most. I like hitting guys. I look forward to playing at a higher level.”

Crawford will clearly have that chance, as he already boasts a list of written offers from some of the nation's top college football programs. Specifically, Crawford has written offers from Pittsburgh, Tennessee, North Carolina, Boston College, Iowa, Rutgers, Arizona State, Northwestern, Minnesota, Syracuse, Maryland and Penn State.

He has also received interest from Michigan, Ohio State and Miami, all three of which have asked Crawford to make a visit to their respective campuses.

As for Penn State, Crawford specifically mentioned his interest in the family atmosphere in Happy Valley.

“The Penn State family environment, that's what I really liked about Penn State,” Crawford said. “I'm going up there in August. I really like Penn State. In August, I'm going to meet Coach Larry Johnson. At that point, I'll have an idea. I'm looking to commit in August. I like Penn State a lot. I like the players, they're really good people. That's what's important. You have to think about being happy if you're not playing football because you're not guaranteed to play.”

Crawford indicated that he did not have an opportunity to meet with Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson on his unofficial visit to Happy Valley back in May. It was on that trip in May that Crawford received his written scholarship from Penn State.

“I met with Coach [Joe] Paterno and we sat in his office and he said he'd love to have me there,” Crawford said. “It's funny because I suppose I'm new to the country, but I knew he is a great figure. Some teachers at my school can't believe it.”

However, beyond the scholarships and athletic achievements, if you ask Mary what she thinks of Crawford, she'll tell you he's a very cerebral person — both on and off the field — who is extremely self-disciplined and is simply a pleasure to be around.

With the potential distractions at the Jersey Shore, Mary points out that Crawford has a regular workout routine he set up for himself. While many other people his age are sleeping in or playing on the beach in the summer, Crawford will be up early outside the house warming up by jumping rope.

“He's an awesome person, that is the truth,” Mary said. “He's a thinker. He's very philosophical. He gets into some serious discussions. He's a very hard worker. He actually thinks about getting up early and going for a workout. He has that drive.”

Mary and Steven have also served in a support role for Crawford throughout the recruiting process. She said that she has emphasized the critical importance of education and not just football

“I would say that we talk to Jack and we try to make him understand — the biggest thing I try to get across to him — is the education is important,” Mary said. “His athletic ability can help him succeed where he could take it to the next level.”

For Crawford's family back in England, the entire college football recruiting process has been lost in translation somewhat, although Mary mentioned that Crawford's parents have been able to utilize YouTube to see videos of American football and the following it has in the States.

Regardless, Crawford said he still enjoys conveying information to his family.

“I was trying to explain it to them, but my mom and dad, I don't think they quite understand,” Crawford laughed. “You play in front of hundreds and thousands of people. More people come to a college football game than a premiership soccer game in England. It's hard to believe coming from playing in London. I've never played in a crowd bigger than 500 people, and that was just playing in the nationals for basketball in England. It was a shock to me coming over.”


Fight On State Top Stories