Crawford, the Cowboys' third-round pick, will compete at defensive end in the 3-4 scheme.
Toronto Sun / QMI Agency
IRVING, Texas - When he was little, Tyrone Crawford played sports all year long. Baseball, basketball, football, track. Always something.
"Yeah, because Momma had to work!" his mother, Tara Crawford, says from her well-kept home in this struggling, rust-belt city.
"I was a single mom, and I always had to work. And I just always wanted to know where my kids were. Leaving them with a young babysitter sitting at home? I'd always want to know, 'What are my kids doing?' So sports. Sports was just the thing."
Sports sure are Tyrone Crawford's thing.
How many people do you know who won four state-championship gold medals in high school? Crawford did the Canadian equivalent at Windsor's Catholic Central High School from 2004-07, and in two sports — shot put (three times in four years) and in basketball. And he came close in javelin and discus. What's more, Crawford was a helluva youth-league pitcher in baseball.
But then there's football.
A defensive end the past two seasons at Boise State University in Idaho, which followed two years at Bakersfield Junior College in California, Crawford is a pass-rushing specialist. He was projected by most experts to be picked in the third round of the draft, and indeed went 81st overall to the Cowboys in the 3rd.
"He's freakishly athletic — explosive and so strong," says Pete Kwiatkowski, the defensive coordinator at Boise State who began recruiting Crawford to Idaho back in 2007.
"The kid could excel in anything he tried," says Jalil Khoury, Crawford's football and field-events coach at Catholic Central High. "He's an unbelievably gifted athlete — by far the best I've ever seen or coached. He was basically a man competing among boys here."
Fourteen NFL teams met with Crawford before the draft, as they did their pre-draft due diligence, including the Patriots (twice), the Colts and the club that plays its home games just three miles north of his mom's home — the Detroit Lions.
The Canadian Football League can only drool over him.
"I know of scouts who believe he's a third- to fourth-round prospect," Rob Rang, senior NFL draft analyst for CBSSports.com, said before the draft.
"But considering the value teams place on pass rushers and Crawford's versatility, I believe he could surprise as a second-round pick. We rank him as the ninth overall defensive end in the 2012 draft, and a second- to third-round pick."
It's hard for Canadian kids to realize the NFL dream. Crawford had to clear more hurdles than most to get to this position.
He grew up without a father figure, and his mom worked those long hours at a Windsor car-parts plastics plant. But Tara Crawford kept both Tyrone and his younger brother, Tarrence, on the straight and narrow. Tarrence, 19, was a redshirt freshman last fall on the Simon Fraser University football team in British Columbia, which plays in NCAA Division II.
"She taught both boys respect, how to be humble, right from wrong, when to stand up for themselves, and when not to," Khoury says. "Tyrone was just a complete young man, because he was raised so well by his mom.
"I'll give you a real prime example of the quality character Tyrone has. We had some special-needs kids in our classes, and he would actually tie the shoes of one kid every single day."
For his part, Kwiatkowski — Crawford's position coach at Boise State — interrupted me as I attempted to thank him for the telephone interview. He wanted to underscore a point he felt he hadn't made well enough.
"Tyrone is probably a better person than a football player," Kwiatkowski said.
"He's extremely reliable, conscientious. Very respectful. He keeps his ego in check, big time. He's got a boatload of talent and doesn't let that go to his head, at all."
Don't get the idea that Crawford is so nice a guy on the field. In all those sports he played as a youth — not just the organized ones, but at all his family get-togethers — a ferocious competitive desire was fired.
"My brother and I, we're probably the most competitive people in Windsor," Crawford says. "We just do not like losing. We have a lot of cousins, and we play them all 2-on-2 in basketball, and they try and mix and match the teams, but we don't ever like to lose."
Crawford competes more than a little intensely to try to see that through.
"Just ask the basketball referees about that," his mother says with a laugh. "They used to love Tyrone, but they'd be like, 'You CAN'T come down on someone like that!' And Tyrone would look at them and just go, 'Basketball's not my game.'"
"Yeah, I was an aggressive basketball player," he admits. "Coming off football season, I was always in the football mode. And I hurt a couple players doing the wrong thing."
But on the football fields of Windsor, Crawford's intensity could flow unabated — be it at running back, slot receiver, tight end, outside linebacker or inside linebacker.
"He just completely dominated a game once at running back against a team that was very, very strong," Khoury says "He scored four touchdowns. He basically willed our team to win that game. He said, 'Give me the ball, and I will do whatever it takes to win.' He couldn't be stopped."
If Crawford had taken what is labeled in Ontario high schools as the university trajectory — the "academic" scholastic stream, rather than the "applied" curriculum — Khoury says the top NCAA football programs would have been "all over him for a full-ride scholarship."
As it was, Crawford did not take enough core subjects to qualify for the NCAA. That's why he played the 2008 and 2009 seasons at Bakersfield Junior College, earning all-American junior-college status the second year as a pass-rushing defensive end. It was there that he met his girlfriend Kelsey, now a varsity volleyball player at LSU. Kwiatkowski had kept an eye on Crawford's progress in Bakersfield, and Boise State offered him a full-ride scholarship for his last two years of college ball.
With the Broncos in 2010, Crawford made an immediate impact. As a non-starting but often-rotated-in defensive end, Crawford recorded 13.5 tackles-for-loss and seven sacks.
Last fall as a senior, Crawford started and was often unblockable. He rang up another 13.5 TFLs, forced three fumbles, recovered two fumbles (racing one back for a touchdown) and had 6.5 quarterback sacks. He was an all-conference defender in the Mountain West.
At a post-season all-star game this past January, the East-West Shrine Game, Crawford began to turn NFL scouts' heads. A month later at the scouting combine in Indianapolis, he turned even more — including that of the "Godfather" of NFL talent evaluators, Gil Brandt, who of course was with the Dallas Cowboys from the beginning through the 1989.
"At the combine, Crawford had walked out of the building, and I was talking to somebody and I yelled at one of the players, 'Hey, get Crawford back here!'" Brandt says.
"When he came back I told him, 'You really helped yourself a lot today, and I think you're going to be a really good player.'"
Crawford told his mom before the draft that should he strike it rich in the NFL, he'd fly her to all his games.
"He keeps saying that," Tara Crawford said in early April. "But I'm a worker, and I've been working all my life. I just don't see how I could take my boy's money like that. It'd feel like I'm robbing somebody."
Tyrone Crawford disagrees, but understands.
It was the way he was brought up.
(John Kryk is the NFL Columnist for the Toronto Sun, its parent company Sun Media Canada and distributor QMI Agency.He is the first full-time, year-round NFL writer in Canada. John has written about college football for more than 20 years, authoring Natural Enemies: The Notre Dame-Michigan Football Feud in 1994. You can read his NFL blog at blogs.canoe.ca/krykslants or follow him on Twitter at @JohnKryk)