MOSCOW, Idaho – Rahsaan Crawford toils in the anonymity of the trenches as a blocking back for the Idaho Vandals, yet he has the liveliest idiom on the team.
Similar to defensive end Kaden Elliss, who also plays tight end and wide receiver, Crawford this season has responsibilities on both sides of the ball, as a nose guard and fullback. He’s expansive about how their roles fundamentally differ. Elliss, he said, “is possibly getting the ball a lot. My job on every down is, ‘Who am I blocking on this play?’
“(Elliss) has to understand the different coverages (that receivers see) and the coverage we’re playing at the time (when Idaho is on defense). I don’t have to backpedal, or get 7 yards off the ball. I just line up, and we’re going to see who’s who in a minute.”
It’s a flat-out shame that Crawford doesn’t get to expound on touchdowns, interceptions or sacks. His words are laden with wry wisdom, rich imagery that rarely has an appropriate stage. The shoving contest that is football in the interior lines, unfortunately, just isn’t that dramatic or heroic.
“I’ve always loved the game,” Crawford said. “When I was little, I would sit up and watch ‘SportsCenter’ all day, never cartoons.
“I like what football teaches you. It separates the boys from the men, and it does not take you long to find out what kind of guy you are. Do you cut corners or take the main road?
“In hitting drills, are you at the head of the line or hiding out?
“You can look in the mirror the next day and know who is looking back at you. Football answers the question for you. It doesn’t let you provide the answer.”
As naturally as he fits into the game and on the Vandals team, college football almost missed out on the opportunity to let Rahsaan be Rahsaan. Following a standout high school career in Tucker, Georgia, northeast of Atlanta, the 330-pound Crawford thought he was on his way to becoming a jumbo-sized welder or electrician. Only two Football Championship Subdivision teams expressed even modest interest in him, and neither offered a scholarship.
“I was thinking about trade school,” he said.
Then Idaho brought him across the country for an official visit and presented a scholarship, which he accepted.
“As soon as I did, the two FCS schools pulled the trigger,” he said. “But I’m loyal to people who treat me well.”
Crawford moved to Moscow in June 2016 and enrolled in Idaho’s summer session, then went through a grueling preseason camp.
“It was hard,” he said. “That was back when we still had two-a-days.”
Crawford had to rely on his own resources to survive, then thrive.
“I have no family out here,” he said. “It was definitely a learning process. It was a difficult transition at first. But everything ended up working out.”
Originally a defensive lineman, Crawford moved to offense midway through last season. He has the distinction of starting at guard in Idaho’s final game as a Football Bowl Subdivision team, a 24-10 victory at Georgia State in December.
“I didn’t see myself as an offensive lineman, but I can move my feet pretty well,” he said.
He returned to defense this year. He starts at nose guard and also gets reps at fullback.
“(As a nose guard) you take on the double-team,” he said. “You don’t get any recognition for it.
“I would love to get the ball playing fullback. I would love to get the ball. It’s always the dream of a lineman.”
In talking about football, Crawford doesn’t retreat to the jargon of the sport, but carefully explains the concepts underlying the language. He doesn’t pepper his explanation with one-gap and two-gap schemes in describing the Vandals’ defensive challenge today against their homecoming opponent, Southern Utah.
Rather, he points out that extraneous movement is the bane of large individuals.
“(The Thunderbirds) want to get guys moving east and west, get guys tired,” he said. “You have to make sure you’re in the best shape when the north-south play comes. We have to understand it’s going to be a lateral game.”
At a press conference this week, Crawford delivered a tutorial on the challenges offensive shifting presents to defensive linemen in getting a presnap read.
Later, after practice, he shrugged off the feat.
“Football’s like my second language,” he said. “I like to help other people, bring them to a common understanding.”
That’s the sort of thing an elected official might say.
“I would never rule that out,” Crawford said. “I’m a pretty confident guy.”
First, though, he wants a career in football when he’s finished playing: coaching, broadcast game analyst, something.
“I do definitely love the game,” he said.
When he began playing for the Vandals, Idaho was an FBS team. Except for the fact that Idaho’s Sun Belt Conference road games were mostly in the Southeast, allowing family members to see him play, Crawford said he embraces the Vandals’ return to the Big Sky Conference and FCS.
With a roster full of recent FBS players, Idaho was widely considered to be a Big Sky contender and playoff team. So far, the Vandals haven’t lived up to those expectations, sitting at 2-4 on the year, 1-3 in the conference.
Crawford has an apposite take on his team’s situation and what it will take to turn around its season.
“We have the puzzle pieces,” he said. “But it’s still a puzzle.”
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