Crawford Learning To Manage His Time
By Brian McCracken
Typically one of the most valuable life lessons learned in college is that of time management.
For West Virginia running back Justin Crawford, the practice of properly organizing and managing a 24-hour schedule has become somewhat of an art form.
As a father of two, he is rarely afforded luxuries that most college students tend to take for granted. While many have excess time to socialize, relax or take a day off, Crawford is usually tending to his children, studying class material or preparing himself to become one of college football’s elite running backs in 2017.
When WVU football players were recently introduced to new WHOOP devices – a wrist band that is supposed to aid modern day athletes with recovery, strain and perhaps most importantly sleep – Crawford knew his sleeping pattern wasn’t going to be up to par.
“With me having two kids, it’s kind of hard to get sleep because one is two-years-old and the other one is one-year-old,” the senior running back said with a sly grin on his face. “We’re trying to get the youngest one off of bottles, but it’s not working too well. They sleep, but the younger one wakes up throughout the night. I try to go to bed early, but I still usually have to get up (in the middle of the night).”
Not exactly an ideal circumstance for a typical college student, let alone a full time Division I athlete.
There are obvious hardships that come with raising a family, earning a degree and the rigors of playing football, but Crawford is taking it all in stride, something he learned to do shortly after arriving in Senatobia, Miss., the location of Northwest Mississippi Community College.
It was at NMCC where Crawford befriended Rodney McLawyer, an owner of a local car detailing business. McLawyer, who employed Crawford for a short period of time, saw the potential of the young running back from Columbus, Ga., well before major college football powers started flocking to Senatobia over the next two seasons. And McLawyer shared a piece of advice that became instrumental in shaping Crawford’s thought process on time management and work ethic.
“He basically told me, ‘While everyone is sitting at home not doing anything, you could be getting ahead. Right now you could be putting yourself in a position to be way better than everyone else.’”
After that talk, Crawford made a habit of putting in long nights to get ahead both athletically and financially. When he wasn’t sharpening his football skills, he was providing for his family. Besides working for McLawyer’s car detailing show, Crawford also worked at Wal-Mart, Popeye’s and UPS during his time at NMCC.
“Basically, while other people are at home sleeping, I was working out,” noted the 6-foot, 202-pound senior. “I got a membership to the gym down there, and I was going to work out at midnight or one o’clock in the morning for a couple of hours. I would come home and sleep and get up for class.”
On Dec. 23, 2015, shortly after wrapping up his second and final season of junior college football, Crawford’s first son Jaydense was born. Now tasked with supporting a family, he had a choice to make – continue to pursue an NFL career in football or immediately enter the workforce. The decision wasn’t quite as easy as some may assume.
“(Quitting football) crossed my mind a couple of times,” he admitted. “I have had several other dreams. I have thought about getting my CDL and becoming a truck driver. I also thought about just going to school for architecture, because I like to draw, but I really don’t have the time to draw much right now. I cut hair too, so there were a couple of things I was thinking about doing.”
Ultimately he chose football, and after the early departure of Wendell Smallwood, West Virginia’s coaching staff was scrambling to find a high caliber running back who could come in and provide immediate depth. When then-running backs coach Ja’Jaun Seider put on Crawford’s tape, he couldn’t believe that the junior college player of the year had not yet been signed. So the Mountaineers got involved late, made an instant impression and landed the juco playmaker’s services.
Crawford arrived in Morgantown late in the summer of 2016 along with his wife, Kenya, and a young child (Jaydense) with another (Justin, Jr.) on the way, so one of his first orders of business was to look for a way to support his family financially. The answer? A part-time job at Taco Bell. For roughly a month he successfully balanced summer workouts with his part time job in Morgantown. But when fall camp came in August, he realized just how monumental of a task playing major college football was going to be. While his work ethic was admirable, West Virginia’s coaching staff advised him to ditch the job and focus solely on football.
On Aug. 1, Crawford resigned from his position at Taco Bell and immediately started making an impression on his new coaches and teammates. For the next month, it seemed as if most of the buzz around campus was about No. 25 and the long runs he was consistently breaking off in practice.
Crawford formally introduced himself to West Virginia’s fan base with a 100-yard showing in the season opener vs. Missouri, and continued to build from there. By the end of the 2016 season he had accumulated 1,184 yards and averaged 7.3 yards per carry, a number that ranked first in the Big 12 and sixth nationally. The only thing that seemed to slow him down were a few nagging injuries sustained in the later portion of the season.
Now entering his final year of collegiate eligibility, Crawford is finally getting a chance to experience the benefits of participating in a Power 5 offseason workout program, something that should pay major dividends in helping the senior back stay on the field. So far, Crawford has taken full advantage of strength coach Mike Joseph’s workout program and added five pounds of muscle to his frame.
While the amenities and facilities at WVU are the nicest he’s ever been around, he is still just as hungry for success as the 19-year-old kid in Senatobia who bought a gym membership to get a leg up on his peers.
And with the work he has put in to fine tune his body, one would expect a bump in production if he is able to stay on the field this season, but that’s the last thing on his mind.
“I really just want to be that leader for my team and keep everybody positive and working hard,” stated the multidisciplinary studies major. “That’s my role. I don’t worry about the stats, I just think about helping my team getting better.”
If Crawford has the type of year that many are expecting him to have, he should find himself on the radar of many NFL teams next spring. But for now, his focus remains on West Virginia’s upcoming season, his two children and earning a college degree. Crawford isn’t the type to look too far in the past or too far in the future, but he knows that the time and hard work he has put in will all pay off in the long run.
“It’s all been worth it,” he stated. “The reward is going to outweigh all the work I have had to put into it.”
This story was part of the recent issue of the Blue & Gold News. You can purchase a subscription to the Blue & Gold News magazine and the website, BlueGoldNews.com, at https://bluegoldnews.com/membership-account/membership-levels/