Overachieving ex-Warrior should inspire youths | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Overachieving ex-Warrior should inspire youths

Steve Yingling

Over the winter, one of Tahoe’s favorite sports topics was: “Will he be drafted?”

In this case, the he being Jerod Haase. Despite subpar shooting during his junior season, the Kansas guard who calls Tahoe home regained his shooting touch during the Jayhawks’ prolonged perch at No. 1. But then came word of Haase’s broken right wrist and decision that he’d forgo the pre-NBA Draft camps because of surgery and rehabilitation.

Community confidence quickly turned to doubt, as far as the draft goes.

But fortunately this special place in the mountains has athletic versatility.

Way back when, the Tahoe sports fans should have been posing the question, “Will they be drafted?”

But being overlooked is something Mike Crawford has endured most of his athletic life.

When he was a senior at tiny Whittell High, Crawford supposedly wasn’t big or strong enough to play that many minutes in the annual Sertoma Classic all-star football game.

Colleges and universities must have believed the scouting reports because Crawford spent his first summer out of high school clipping the grass at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course.

Former Whittell football coach Richard Brandt knew Crawford was someone special but couldn’t convince anyone.

“He’s the type of person who will work his heart every day. Mike’s been a very gutsy kid all of his life,” said Brandt, who last coached Crawford in 1991 when the Warriors advanced to the state finals. “If there is anything high school (sports) gave him, it was you’re never going to do anything yourself; you need to work as hard as anyone else.”

The following year, Nevada tossed him a chewed biscuit – a chance to pay to play for the Pack. They even treated the walk-on as a dog as a freshman, asking him to retrieve missed field goals in the stands.

But Nevada, which has saved thousands of dollars by inducing local talent to walk on, soon realized its mistake. Crawford wowed football fans nationally with his special teams hit against Wisconsin his freshman season.

It wasn’t long before Crawford appeared on the Pack depth chart, received a scholarship and became a second-string linebacker.

As a junior and senior, Crawford was one of the Pack’s most consistent performers. But just as Crawford was about to get his due, along came a guy by the name of Deshone Myles out of Las Vegas.

When the Pack defense played well, the reporters visited Myles’ locker for the answers.

From his inside linebacker position, Crawford quietly was the Pack’s second-leading tackler and earned first- and second-team Big West Conference defensive honors his final two seasons.

Finally, ESPN recognized his true ability in the Las Vegas Bowl last September. In front of a national TV audience, Crawford had the game of his life in the Pack’s 18-15 win over Ball State. In what many thought was his final football game, Crawford made 14 tackles, including three quarterback sacks, and preserved the bowl victory with a last-minute interception.

Somehow the pro scouts missed the performance. With the NFL draft approaching, an ESPN Internet site didn’t list Crawford among the top 100 available linebackers.

But Crawford didn’t let scouting reports get him down. He knew in his heart he could play in the NFL.

In fact, a few months before the draft Crawford indicated that it was the NFL or he was through with football.

Ironically, the pro experts didn’t fully realize Crawford’s potential until they gave him a private workout without pads a month before the draft.

Still, a proud and determined Crawford only gave himself a 15 percent chance of being drafted. No reason to shed the underdog role now.

It took 173 selections before the NFL draft gurus came to their senses. With one of their many sixth-round picks, the Miami Dolphins chose Crawford.

Learning of his improbable selection, who could blame him for jumping off the roof of his mom’s Tahoe Keys home. Compared to the battle that lies ahead, falling from a 35-foot high roof is pretty mild.

“Through his style of play and his willingness to do one better, he will be a good platform for any of the other small schools in Nevada. I’m very proud of him,” Brandt said.With a six-figure contract only a steaming summer camp away, Crawford hasn’t forgotten his roots. He doesn’t want to be the only Whittell football player to be drafted and play in the NFL.

“I’m hoping kids coming out of Whittell will realize that no matter how small a school or no matter what division you’re playing in, you can accomplish goals if you set your mind to it,” Crawford said.

This skiing- and basketball-oriented town should be very proud of Crawford and the obstacles he’s overcome to play in the world’s best football league.

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