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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 20 Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-9, 186 pounds.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A fifth-year, Crawford theoretically has only one season of eligibility remaining, but given his injury history of losing three seasons (left ACL in August 2015, Achilles in September 2016, and right ACL in August 2018), Crawford should have a strong case to petition the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility. Given the fickle nature of the governing body, the success of such a request would be hard to predict, but logically speaking, Crawford deserves a sixth year if he wants it.
Depth chart: If healthy and as effective as he was in his one healthy season (2017), Crawford is a shoo-in to start in the secondary, be it by making the nickel package the defense’s base or by lining up opposite senior cornerback Troy Pride. However, that is a huge “if”.
Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect de-committed from Michigan soon after Notre Dame extended him an offer, having also pondered Miami, Ohio State and Florida State. The Under Armour All-American was rated the No. 7 cornerback and the No. 82 recruit in the class of 2015, per rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
The stats and moments of brilliance pale in comparison to the injuries. Crawford was set to start at nickel back as a freshman before tearing his ACL. He recovered in time to shine in 2016’s opener at Texas, scooping up a blocked extra point attempt for a two-point conversion and a tie game. Celebrating an interception a week later, pop went Crawford’s Achilles.

Think about that for a moment. Dwell on the facts: Crawford would have been a day-one freshman contributor. In his first two career games, he ran the length of the field for two pivotal points and snagged an interception.

He was just getting started.

Healthy throughout 2017, Crawford filled the stat sheet, and listing off those numbers fails to recognize how stellar his most impressive play was, forcing a fumble inches from the goal line and recovering it for a touchback to prevent a Michigan State touchdown.

Then, another torn ACL just days before the 2018 opener.

2015: Lost entirely to preseason injury.
2016: Two games; six tackles, one interception, one PAT return for two points.
2017: 12 games, one start; 32 tackles with 1.5 sacks; two interceptions with five pass breakups and two fumbles forced, recovering one.
2018: Lost entirely to preseason injury.

QUOTE(S)
Held out of contact drills throughout the spring, Crawford is still expected back this fall, as is senior cornerback Donte Vaughn (shoulder). The two were discussed in tandem simply due to their injury statuses and shared position.

“They factor in heavily in terms of the fall,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in April. “These are two guys that I told them if they’re standing on the sideline with me against Louisville, I’ll be very disappointed. I expect them to be competing and playing for us in some fashion. They’ve both been in the program a long time. They understand the level of competition that we need to play at and they’re both anxious. They both want to get in there. We think some of the things that we’re doing are really going to benefit both of them from a defensive back standpoint.”

WHAT WAS SAID IN AUGUST, WHEN CRAWFORD TORE HIS SECOND ACL
While the injury changed Notre Dame’s immediate future — and long-term future considering how valuable an additional talented cornerback may have been in the Cotton Bowl — it was that it happened to Crawford, again, that stood out and resonated within the Irish locker room in the days before facing Michigan.

“Your heart is broken for a kid that’s worked so hard to get on the field and has been set back by injury,” Kelly said that Thursday, two days after the injury. “It’s difficult for him, but he’s handling it the best he can given the circumstances.”’

Losing Crawford creates domino effect in Notre Dame’s secondary

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Crawford at his peak last season may have been Notre Dame’s most-dynamic defender. It is just difficult to know if his peak was short-lived or if the opportune moments were simply more infrequent in the season’s second half. Given the slide of the entire Irish defense, it is not a leap to presume Crawford tired. Coming off those two injuries, it would be an understandable fatigue.

“That cannot be the case in 2018, even if it appeared to be somewhat the situation in the spring. Coleman seeing time at nickel back showed a loosening to Crawford’s iron-clad grip on the position. A few times, he let Notre Dame’s receivers get by him, something beyond consideration when he is at his quickest.”

Crawford’s recovery of an LJ Scott fumble, one forced by Crawford at the goal line, very literally deprived the Spartans of a touchdown in a 38-18 Irish victory in 2017. (AP Photo/Al Goldis)

2019 OUTLOOK
This may sound harsh, but it should be the rational approach: Anything Crawford can give the Irish this season is a surprise, one welcomed by Kelly and his coaching staff. The human body can come back from only so much, even amidst modern medicine, and one has to wonder if Crawford’s has lost too much as it pertains to football.

Of course, there is no way to know that until Crawford takes the field and tests himself against Chris Finke, Michael Young and Jafar Armstrong. If Crawford earns a prominent role this preseason, that will be a good thing for Notre Dame.

Even if he has lost half a stride, Crawford’s football intellect could make him a worthwhile defender. It was those instincts that popped the ball loose in East Lansing two years ago. Crawford’s awareness on the field is borderline preternatural.

This space will not offer any projected tackle totals for Crawford. First, let’s see him prove himself healthy and effective once more. If so, then let’s be greedy and hope for one more moment of football brilliance, simply because scoop-and-scores on PATs are as rare as players with Crawford’s habit of making such plays.

DOWN THE ROAD
Three scenarios seem in play. From pessimistic to realistic to optimistic …

Crawford may no longer have the explosiveness necessary for a player his size to be effective. This may be his final fall of football.

He may prove to have some of it back, but not yet all of it, though showing enough to warrant belief it will return with a full year of health. In that case, Crawford will presumably ask the NCAA about a waiver, and if he does not get it, well, that would be beyond outrageous. A sixth year could be spent at Notre Dame, or Crawford could transfer elsewhere with immediate eligibility. That would likely depend on what level of success he finds this season.

Lastly, if Crawford has his explosiveness back already, he could take a decent-to-good 2019 and jump to the NFL. If anyone should start collecting paychecks as quickly as possible, it is someone whose career has already been threatened by three season-ending injuries.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety