Penn-cil him in
Jack Crawford is making it big in the US. Alex Ferguson caught up with the youngster from London.
Last Updated: 28/05/10 11:20am
In a year's time, Jack Crawford, like many of his Penn State team-mates, will be looking to make it in the NFL.
But unlike a lot of his peers, Crawford doesn't hail from Florida or Texas, but Kilburn in north-west London.
Coming to Penn State from London via Richland, New Jersey seems a strange tale - and is one the youngster will be forced to re-tell often as his profile gets bigger.
"I came over after I finished my GCSEs to New Jersey in the States and I went to a basketball camp - I had played for a basketball team in Whitechapel. I went to this camp and a lot of US high schools wanted me to play for them."
He decided to go and live with a host family in New Jersey and attend St Augustine Prep school. While there he started watching American Football. "I started to watch US football and it became more interesting to me. I decided to go out and play in my junior [third] year."
After a brilliant first season with St Augustine, Crawford became a highly-recruited defensive end who was on the radar of a number of major schools including Penn State and their arch-rivals Michigan and Ohio State. Coaches spent a lot of time trotting into St Augustine looking to speak to the talented youngster."It seems like I was meeting a coach a day," he said.
Eventually he went to Penn State.
"Penn State was the closest big programme to my host family in New Jersey," he explains.
The reason to be near friends and family is something that Crawford mentions often. After all, it's not easy being a Londoner stuck in State College, Pennsylvania.
"Penn State is a college town in the middle of nowhere. That was the toughest thing out here - I'm used to the city. We're three hours from any city in any direction."
Despite the fact that Crawford is stuck in Nowheresville, USA, the fans are still - in his mind - the best. After all, he plays in front of 110,000 of them at the giant Beaver Stadium almost every Saturday from the start of September until mid-November.
Beaver Stadium dominates State College's skyline and is a focus point for most conversations involving Pennsylvania State activities.
"It's crazy. It holds 110,000 people. It's a good feeling playing in front of them. In America, they have the space to build stadiums. The noise gets trapped in."
But are the fans like British football fans, who like to cajole opposition fans, managers and players? "The American fans vary," Crawford says. "You have the Ohio State fans who are similar to UK football fans in London and you have the Penn State fans who will support you regardless."
He has quite a fan club: Penn State students have even taken the Londoner to their hearts, producing a banner for the player which reads 'Jack The Ripper' lettered on the Union Jack.
Crawford has been part of two strong seasons for the Penn State Nittany Lions. In his first season, the Lions only lost one game and won their conference title, but in 2009, the home losses to Iowa and Ohio State - despite an unbeaten road record thus far - have stung the home fans. But Crawford thinks differently. "It's been a good season. It's give it an 8 out of 10. You can't get upset with the two losses."
He also thinks that it's one that may have made the NFL Scouts notice, too. "I feel like I've put myself on the map," he says. And so he should: so far in Crawford's season he has 5 ½ sacks, 30 tackles and 13 ½ tackles for loss. He's also broken up three passes and forced a fumble and is ranked as a possible fourth round pick in the 2012 draft. All this and he hasn't even finished his second season.
Does Crawford think there will be other Britsh players trying their luck in college football - the stairway to the riches of the National Football League?
"As long as it grows there will be people coming to play from the UK," he says.
We can only hope so.