During the visit-packed day that was Tuesday, the Michigan staff made their imprint all across the country. With a plan set to visit several top prospects far and wide, the staff started off with their highest-ranked 2015 commit, Shaun Crawford (St. Edward's/OH), to check in on the four-star cornerback.
Michigan sent out their top man, as defensive coordinator Greg Mattison made the trip to Ohio to drop in on Crawford during the school day. Apart from the strong relationship he has built with Crawford, one reason that makes the trip to St. Edward's even more worth-while for Mattison is that the Eagles also have a slew of other talented, yet uncommitted junior prospects. Due to the wealth of talent at the school, Mattison made sure to check in on a few prospects (David Dowell and Troy Henderson) in addition to their junior cornerback commit as well.
During the 2013 season, Crawford made his presence felt wherever he was at on the field. Trying his hand at safety and running back in addition to corner, Shaun showed his play-making ability with a great nose for the football. When he wasn't locking down wide outs in the secondary, Crawford could be seen routinely slicing his way through opposing defensive fronts at running back. Crawford's versatility, athleticism and refined coverage skills are part of why he is widely-regarded as a top-10 cornerback in the 2015 class. His junior highlight film can be seen here.
"My junior year went great from an individual standpoint," said Crawford. "I got the chance to play on both sides of the ball this year and add more tackles, interceptions and touchdowns and blocked some field goals. From a team standpoint, I would have liked to end my junior year with a state championship, but we fell short in the final four."
After a very impressive 2013 season, finishing strong is one area that Crawford would like to improve upon heading into his senior campaign. With a final record of 11-2, St. Edward's fell just short of a stater championship appearance. However, the Eagles faced a difficult schedule and pulled out victories against very talented teams, such as Eastern Christian Academy and Glenville High School.
"That's one thing too, some schools have great kids who play against no one really," said Crawford. "We try to play against high level of competition. It elevates our expectations and helps to get us ready for the next level."
To open the 2013 season, Crawford and the St. Edward's Eagles faced a highly-touted Glenville team that features two recently-committed future Buckeyes in Erick Smith and Marshon Lattimore. These three players would grow very familiar with each other as the season went on, and all three were recently selected as part of an Ohio All-Star defensive backfield.
"It was the top defensive backs for the state of Ohio. It was quite an accomplishment to be the only junior from the group selected. They are all great players and are very competitive, so knowing what kind of players they are made it a big accomplishment."
Crawford can be seen taking part in an interview regarding this distinction with Smith and Lattimore below.
Crawford spoke about what makes him such a polarizing figure on the football field. Due to his size, Shaun has received some criticism and has used these critiques as motivation to perform on the football field. Overcoming adversity is nothing new to Crawford, and he has become a master at honing his slights as motivational tools.
"One thing that I tell people is that I'm not little, I'm short," said Crawford. "People say because of my size I can't hit hard or play with the big boys for an entire game. I try to practice how I play. We can't tackle in practice, so I just get in the habit of flying full-speed to the ball. When game time comes, I just zone out."
With this aggressive style of play, Crawford inherently puts himself at a greater risk for injury. In order to counteract the risk of injury from head collisions, the NCAA recently imposed a stiff penalty for targeting opposing players. Crawford says that while injuries are always a concern, he won't be modifying his playing style anytime soon for the best interest of all involved.
"I think about it, but I can't really worry about concussions," said Crawford. "I go out there and play my game. If I'm out there going at half-speed, it risks injury even further. It wouldn't be a good idea to ease up out there."
As one of the premiere players in the state of Ohio, Crawford is a very high-profile player that has certain expectations to live up to. These expectations are only intensified by his August 23 committment to the Michigan Wolverines, his favorite school growing up and the arch-rival of many Ohio residents.
"This year was a prime example," said Crawford. "Every game there were people looking out for me and people were watching me. Being committed to Michigan, I know a lot of eyes are on me. In warm-ups, I hear a lot of people saying 'Go Blue', so there's a lot of pressure on me. I try to bring a lot of intensity and use it to fire everyone up. Going up against bigger running backs or guys like Lattimore and Smith fires me up. Even though I'm about 5'9" and 170 lbs., throughout the game people can't just bounce off me."
Crawford embraces the expectations that are placed upon him due to his Wolverine pledge and he wouldn't have it any other way. After going through the recruiting process, one which included several trips to Ann Arbor, Shaun was able to feel comfortable with his decision and is more solid to Michigan now than ever before.
"Before I committed to Michigan, I had visited about four times," said Crawford. "They weren't one of the first ones to offer me, maybe like 10th or something, but it was a special feeling when coach Mattison would call me to talk to me since I was a fan of the team forever. It made me feel some type of way. I always try to compare it to my first offer because it's so surreal that I can't put words into describing it. The way I felt when I got that offer, I knew it was way more important than any other school that had offered me."
As one of his visits to Michigam, Shaun competed in the Wolverines technique camp over the summer. This allowed for Crawford, who has long admired the Michigan program, to experience first-hand what it would be like to play under the Wolverines' coaching staff.
"When I went to the camp, it really helped me," said Crawford. "Competing with other kids in one-on-one's while the coaches were watching me was very useful. The defensive back coach was watching and would give me feedback, but so was Brady Hoke too. It's nice that even though it's not his position, he can help you out there. It was really good working with the coaches and talking to the staff. I know everyone on the staff by name and vice versa. Every time I go up there, it just feels like home and there's a certain feeling I get."
His close relationship to the staff, especially to Greg Mattison, was a pivotal factor in his decision on where to play collegiate football. It is crucial for a prospect to feel confident in their future coaching staff, and this rings true in Crawford's case as well. When Mattison visited St. Edward's on Tuesday, Shaun was both surprised and excited to see his future defensive coordinator in his school.
"I didn't even see coach Mattison at first, he kind of slipped right past me," said Crawford. "So when I saw him, my eyes lit up. He's a really funny guy and we can talk about everything. Today we were talking about football really in general and how schools is going. We talked about my family too because we can really talk about anything. You can just see the smile on his face and he's really excited about me being committed there. One thing about them is when you see him, we talk about family and how we both are doing. It's not so much about football because I know he can get the best out of you and prepare you. I can talk to him about my personal problems and it's just a quality I really like for my coach."
This visit served several purposes, as the St. Ed's backfield contains several high-ceiling athletes such as Andrew Dowell and David Dowell. The Dowell twins have helped bolster an already-impressive secondary and both assumed double-duty on offense during the 2013 season as well. Michigan has been involved with both of the Dowells for quite some time now, and they maintain a steady interest in the Wolverines.
"Coach Mattison came in to see us," said David Dowell. "He said he wants us to come back up there to visit again and says we'll be in touch. He's a pretty awesome guy. He's really cool to talk to and is really knowledgable about football. Everytime I've talked to him, he has talked about coaching the [Baltimore] Ravens and Ray Lewis and Ed Reed."
Michigan hosted the Dowell twins for their technique camp during the middle of June this summer. Both prospects performed well at the camp under the watchful eye of the Michigan staff and have kept the attention of the Wolverines after impressive junior seasons. At running back, Andrew ran the ball 158 times for 968 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2013. David, on the other hand, took snaps at wide receiver and notched 26 receptions for 283 yards and seven touchdowns. Both brothers also joined Shaun Crawford to form perhaps the strongest secondary in the state of Ohio.
Another prospect that has begun to draw interest from Michigan is junior linebacker Troy Henderson. During the middle of December, Henderson joined Crawford and junior quarterback Brett Kean on a visit to the Michigan campus. This visit, which featured an exciting home basketball game against No. 1 Arizona, furthered Henderson's interest in the program.
"I visited in the middle of December," said Henderson. "It was great. I enjoyed it! It's a great place. We got to tour the campus and meet with all the coaches, and we watched the basketball team play. [Shaun] has said all positive things. How he loves the coaches, the campus and the school. I want to go up there again."
Yesterday's visit gave Troy the chance to better learn about his teammate's future defensive coordinator and find out why Shaun is so invested in Michigan. It wasn't hard to see, though, as Greg Mattison provided a lot to be interested in.
"I like coach Mattison," said Henderson. "He's a really good guy. I like him a lot! He talked about the Super Bowl and other things. He also talked about how they have only offered a few linebackers already in the 2015 class."
At 6'1", 210 lbs., Troy had average size for a linebacker prospect, but is too large to join the Dowells and Crawford at defensive back. If he tacks on good weight going forward while maintaining his quickness and agility, there is a chance that Henderson's recruitment picks up in the future. He is already on the Wolverines radar, which is a good sign.
With the Evaluation Period fully underway, expect for Greg Mattison to make several other stops to players that Michigan highly covets.