BLACKSBURG — Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Mississippi State.
One by one, DaShawn Crawford saw his junior college teammates commit to SEC programs. It left Crawford wondering.
“He didn’t understand why it wasn’t his turn yet,” said Jones County Junior College defensive line coach Kwesi Drake, a former player at Auburn.
Crawford isn’t impatient by nature. After all, his relative lack of size already had left him so lightly recruited coming out Bay Springs High School in Mississippi that Crawford opted to go the junior college route, playing two years at Jones County to show college recruiters his potential.
“I was under-recruited in high school,” said Crawford, now a junior defensive tackle at Virginia Tech. “My biggest option was a small D-II school.”
At Jones County, he became a starter, using his speed and mastery of technique to rack up 38 tackles and 2½ sacks last season. Crawford still was undersized for his position, but he used his quickness to become effective in stopping the run and rushing the passer.
He played defensive tackle and defensive end for the Bobcats, even moving to nose tackle when they faced a triple-option team.
“Because of his size, he knew he had to do other things as far as his technique and have that very sound,” Drake said. “He was a coachable kid. He was always watching film, looking for little pointers, little tips, looking at the offensive line’s stances, if they gave any tips that they were pulling or what play might be called.”
Crawford helped Jones County go 10-2.
The team’s quarterback, Stetson Bennett, committed to Georgia. Defensive backs Jonathan Haynes and Jamar Richardson announced they’d play at Ole Miss, and a third defensive back, Fred Peters, pledged his services to Mississippi State.
Crawford’s defensive line mate, Marquez Bembry, accepted a scholarship offer to play at Kentucky.
Crawford grew frustrated, but his coaches, including Drake, encouraged him to focus on continuing to be a productive player. His chance, they assured him, would come.
“I talked to them all the time,” Crawford said. “They kept me focused. They was telling me, ‘Do your job. Do what you’re supposed to do. You’re going to be fine no matter you go.’”
The SEC never came calling, but Virginia Tech did. The Hokies had a major need on their defensive line, with junior Jarrod Hewitt the only experienced tackle in the program.
Crawford enrolled in the spring, but he needed to master the defensive scheme and bulk up to compete in the ACC. Both tasks took some effort.
“He would get frustrated kind of in the spring. It’s kind of a complex defense to really grasp,” Hewitt said. “It was kind of iffy sometimes. He’s had times just getting down on himself a lot. But throughout the summer and into camp, he’s just grown day by day.”
He’s also grown his body. Crawford played at 268 pounds at Jones County.
“Now he’s up to about 290, and that was really a question mark about DeShawn, was about how big could he get,” Hokies defensive line coach Charley Wiles said. “You never see him around here without something to eat in his hand. He’s got a smoothie, he’s got a granola bar, and then all the meals that the kids are getting. And he’s still got his quickness and has got a little bit more pop at the point of attack.”
Crawford has started both of Tech’s games this year, totaling three tackles, including one for a loss in the opening loss at Boston College. He was held off the stat sheet against Old Dominion despite playing most of the game, including most passing situations.
Behind him, the Hokies have a crop of promising but raw true freshmen in Norell Pollard, Mario Kendricks and Josh Fuga. Sophomore Robert Porcher returned to action against ODU after dealing with an injury.
Tech rotates its defensive linemen to keep them fresh in games, but Crawford is in the starting lineup, his chance finally here.
He’s not surprised.
“I feel like I could come in and start anywhere I went to,” Crawford said. “It’s all about a mindset. You’ve got to have a mindset to be the best person wherever you go.”