The NCAA ruled in Notre Dame’s favor this week. Yes, you read that correctly. Cornerback Shaun Crawford’s appeal for a sixth year of eligibility was granted, opening the way for him to return and lead the Irish secondary in 2020.
Crawford’s appeal was an open-and-shut case, frankly. An ACL injury cost him all of his freshman season, back in 2015, when he would have been a day-one starter at nickel back. Another preseason torn ACL cost Crawford all of 2018. Those two injuries alone set him up for a sixth season, but he also missed 10 games in 2016 thanks to a torn Achilles and then two in 2019 with a dislocated elbow.
— Shaun Crawford (@ShaunCrawf20) January 10, 2020
Before that dislocated elbow, Crawford was publicly adamant he would not seek a sixth season, instead trusting in his play-making ability to catch on in the NFL before another injury could damage his career. The elbow injury limited him enough in the second half of the season, though — after making 12 tackles in the first four games, Crawford had just 13 in the final seven — he was already reconsidering those intentions before heading to the Camping World Bowl.
BK said Crawford told Dr. Brian Ratigan: I'm walking off the field. Then told him 'I don't care what you say, I'm playing again.' (Tore four ligaments in his elbow for the record.)
— Tim O'Malley (@timomalleyND) October 3, 2019
At his best, when healthy, Crawford has a nose for the football. In 25 career games, he has intercepted four passes and recovered two fumbles, including one against Michigan State in 2017 that was the literal definition of preventing a touchdown. The fourth of his interceptions came against New Mexico early this season.
Once he returned to the sideline after that pick, Crawford finally felt like he was back in the flow of things after a 20-month layoff.
“It was like a party, honestly,” Crawford said after the trouncing of the Lobos. That’s when it finally hit me, when I got to the sideline and saw everybody coming to me, whether it be offensive guys, coaches, members on the staff, defensive guys.”
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As a fifth-year, Crawford still worked primarily as the nickel back. In 2020, he should start at cornerback as the most experienced member of Notre Dame’s defensive backfield.
The Irish backline lost two captains at safety and a two-year starter at cornerback in Alohi Gilman, Jalen Elliott and Troy Pride, respectively. Donte Vaughn, also out of eligibility, and current sophomore Tariq Bracy largely split starting duties at the other cornerback position, partly because Crawford’s physicality was limited with the bum arm. Without Crawford, Notre Dame faced a daunting reality of Bracy being its only cornerback with any genuine experience.
Healthy, there will be no question of his effectiveness, as displayed in September.
“He was in and around the football again quite a bit today, as he usually is,” head coach Brian Kelly said in mid-September. “He finds the football, and just to think back on the lows that he’s had to go through and to see him today come up with a big play, yeah, it’s kind of nice.”
An argument could be made Crawford should not simply be a sixth-year player, but also a captain for Notre Dame in 2020. That conversation can unfold at a later date. For now, the Irish are simply relieved to have his inspirational playmaking around for another season.
This return was anticipated in the fall’s scholarship count, still at 87.