I never lost sight of the goal despite unexpected obstacles

To: Young college athletes

From: Shaun Crawford (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To young college athletes, 

At the beginning of the 2020 football season, my coach called us into a team huddle and announced that my teammates voted me captain. 

I went home from practice that day and cried. 

Being named captain meant so much to me because since I came to Notre Dame, I’ve shed many tears. 

The NFL was always my dream. After high school, college was the obvious next step toward realizing that dream. But once I got to South Bend, my journey didn’t go as planned. 

In high school, I was named an Under Armor All-American and I was a three-year starter for St. Edward’s, one of the best football programs in the state of Ohio. 

My goal was to start as a freshman and be an All-American. In week two of camp, I was already on my way, getting reps with the twos and making plays. Then, in the middle of practice, I felt a pop in my knee. Immediately, I knew something was wrong. Shortly after, doctors told me my season was over. I tore my right ACL (Anterior Cruciate Ligament). 

The toughest part was calling my parents. When I was on the phone with them, there weren’t many words – just tears on my end and silence from my parents. 

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As tough as it was, I knew I could come back from this injury. There was a trainer at Notre Dame, Tori Hommel, who helped me throughout the entire process. She took care of me. When I didn’t feel it mentally, she understood and backed off a little. On the days that I came in ready to work, she pushed me.

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I trusted her and so did my family. 

Simultaneously, my teammate, Drue Tranquill, also tore his ACL. Previously, he tore his other ACL, so he was able to talk to me about the whole process. Also, he motivated me, as we got a little competitive in the training room. 

By spring, I was back. Our first game the following season was on primetime at Texas. I had a great game, which included an interception. It felt like all that hard work paid off and I was ready to take off. 

The very next game, our first home game of the season and the first home game of my career at Notre Dame, the other team threw a deep pass and I went to break it up, twisted my foot and ruptured my Achilles. 

As soon as the doctor said “Achilles,” my head went down and my tears started to fall. Mid-game, on the sideline, a couple of guys on the team came over to me, held my head up and just stood there next to me.  

As devastated as I was, once again, I believed I could come back. But I didn’t know anyone personally who had hurt their Achilles. So, I leaned on outside sources for motivation. 

Kobe Bryant created a documentary, Kobe Bryant’s Muse, which shared the process of rehabbing from his Achilles injury. I’d watch him, and then I would go to rehab and do the same exercises. Knowing that he made it back on the court and was a lot older than me made me believe I could make it back on the field. I used that Mamba Mentality that he preached to stay focused and get healthy. 

Shaun refused to give up

By my junior year, I was back at it. I picked up right where I left off, making plays all over the field. It was a fun year and my coaches nicknamed me the Golden Mongoose. 

I couldn’t wait for my senior year, as I finally had a season I could grow from, but then it happened again. It was in fall camp during the week before the first game of the season. We were doing one-on-ones and I went to contest the ball and I landed wrong. My knee hyperextended and I tore my other ACL. Again, my season was over. 

It felt completely different from freshman year because I was so exhausted. I couldn’t even bring myself to call my parents and I asked the doctor to talk to them for me. When I went out on the field and told my defensive coordinator, we both cried together.  

But the conversation quickly moved to “Where do I go from here?”

No one at Notre Dame ever asked me or told me to give up. My friends and my family never doubted me. Everyone knew I’d be back and they all helped motivate me every single day.  

Everyone knew I’d be back and they all helped motivate me every single day.

I had to be up at 6:30 am for rehab sometimes. My mom would get up before me and send me videos of her working out, showing me we were in this together. My friends also would send me motivational messages and challenge me in my workouts. My coaches made sure I remained a vocal leader on my team, allowing me to take part in practices and meetings. 

My circle pushed me during the tough days – the days that I felt lazy and sorry for myself. 

After three season-ending injuries, I made it back for my fifth year at Notre Dame. Again, I started and performed well on the field. So, I decided to return for a sixth year. We went undefeated at home. I played multiple positions and got my bachelor’s degree in visual communication design and completed my master’s degree in science management. It was an amazing two seasons and I was honored to be a leader and a captain for the Fighting Irish. 

Shaun was elected captain of Notre Dame by his teammates (Photo courtesy of Notre Dame Athletics)

While my journey didn’t go as planned, I learned so much. 

See, as you begin your collegiate athletic career, you probably have high hopes and big dreams. There is a chance that like me, your journey will not go as you planned. When I got hurt, I had to shift my goals from being a starter and an All-American to just getting healthy. If and when adversity hits, you have to be ready to adjust and control the controllables. But more than anything, when you face a challenge or struggle, I hope you take from my story the importance of leaning on your faith as well as those who can inspire you most. 

With a trainer pushing me in the weight room, a parent hustling with me, teammates putting their arms around me, a family giving endless support and an idol, like Kobe Bryant, showing me what’s possible, I overcame so much the last six years. And that’s because of all the coaches, friends, teammates, trainers and role models that made sure that I didn’t have to fight alone. 

After years of crying tears of disappointment, when I was named captain, I finally cried tears of joy because I knew the inspiration I got from others, my teammates now got from me. 

This year, I am entering the NFL Draft. My childhood dreams are right in front of me and I know I wouldn’t be here without all the people that walked beside me. 

Your village is your team!

Go Irish!

Shaun Crawford
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