FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Brandon Crawford is hunched over, hands on his knees as watches the defensive linemen cycle through a drill.
Crouching in an athletic stance, one lineman rolls a yoga ball to his partner that’s standing a few feet in front of him. The second guy explodes his hips outward as he catches the ball. Back and forth they go.
“Again!” one of the coaches shout.
Crawford remains silent, observing the linemen who repeat the same drill for several minutes. His focused gaze is similar to the one he had towards opposing offensive linemen during his playing days at Ball State.
Over a decade removed from his college football career, Crawford is wearing cardinal red again as an assistant defensive line coach at North Side High School. North Side’s coaching staff knows all about Crawford’s accolades during his playing days.
As for the players themselves? They just know Crawford as “Coach.”
Crawford’s football journey started at nine years old when he played in Fort Wayne’s Metro Football League. He eventually played at South Side High School, graduating in 1996.
Football took a back seat when Crawford joined the Marine Corps three years later. He learned much during that time, lessons that paid dividends long after his service ended.
“You have to lead by example, then you have to set the standard that you want,” Crawford said. “At the same time, you have to adhere to that standard. You can’t just have lip service, say something and do something different.”
After Crawford was discharged in 2003, he was hoping to continue his education in college. During a visit to Ball State, Crawford recalled watching a football game at Scheumann Stadium. He was itching to be on the gridiron again.
“Man, I should get out there and play with those guys,” Crawford recalled. “I think I could do it. I think I still got it.”
A decade removed from playing organized football, Crawford met with Ball State’s coaching staff to look into an opportunity to walk on with the team. After working with the university’s strength and conditioning staff, Crawford was offered a walk-on spot at 30 years old.
It turned out an old dog could learn plenty of new tricks.
“I wanted to be an asset, or someone that could add to the program,” Crawford said. “My mindset going in was I was going to push myself and do the best that I could every day, and wherever that put me, I would accept that.”
Crawford became a 3-year starter during his college football career, racking up 15 sacks and nine forced fumbles while being named to the All-MAC second team in his final two years. As a team, Crawford helped the Cardinals win 26 games during his 4-year span, earning a bowl bid in two of those seasons.
Thomas Tyree, North Side’s defensive coordinator, saw first-hand the impact that Crawford brought at Muncie. The two were teammates at Ball State during the 2007 season, Crawford’s second year.
“Once he understood his job, he was able to lead all the athletes so that they felt comfortable to play their best, because he was always there to help them,” Tyree said.
With his playing days behind him, Crawford knew he had to give back to the game in some way.
“What good is it to have information, and you sit down and hold it, and you never share it with anyone?” Crawford said.
The former Cardinal got in touch with BJ Johnson, who earned the head coaching job at North Side prior to the 2021 season. Crawford agreed to help out the defense as an assistant coach.
Crawford’s time is precious, between his full-time job, raising a family, and coaching. Whatever experience he can draw on, from his time at South Side, to the Marines and Ball State, he’s willing to share it with his players.
“In life, there’s certain things you need to succeed and certain ways you need to be as a person in order to be successful in the world that we live in,” Crawford said.
With the players adjusting to Johnson, Crawford and the rest of the staff, North Side stumbled to a 2-7 finish last fall. Now that the players and coaches are more comfortable with one another, Crawford notices a different mindset from the defensive line. They’re curious, making sure they’re getting the details right instead of nodding to whatever the coaches tell them.
“They know when (Crawford’s) speaking to them, that it comes from a genuine place,” Tyree said.
“They trust him, because they know he loves them.”
The days wind down until North Side opens their season against Snider. Crawford remains off to the side, coaching up linemen as they get a breather between reps. Like all those years ago at South Side and at Muncie, Crawford is still paying attention to the details.