Even during a period of transition, it's hard to find anyone who feels sorry for Neville High School.
How could you? The Tigers return a talented quarterback in Brett Batteford, who gained valuable playing experience last fall, a stable of experienced backs and an offensive line that virtually every school in the state would be envious of.
The Tigers did, however, lose some valuable receivers on the outside, and that position took an even bigger hit over the offseason when stud Zeb Ruddell had to undergo Tommy John surgery.
As they say, “next man up,” and Ben Crawford is the Tigers man.
“You know, he’s always been an extremely hard worker,” Neville head coach Jeff Tannehill said. “He’s one of the brightest kids on the team. He leads by example. He’s a guy that you’re going to get maximum effort out of every time. He played quite a bit during that playoff run. He’s got the experience and the knowledge. And he leads by example.”
If you’re having to replace valuable members of your team in one spot, coaches would be so lucky to have a player that checks those boxes.
Crawford played in spurts last year, but he saw his playing time increase the deeper the Tigers got into the season. At 5’11” and 175 pounds, Crawford brings just a few varsity catches into the 2020 season. But he and his fellow wide outs have done everything within their power to put themselves in a position to make big plays in an offense that should produce quite a few points this season.
“I think all of the rising seniors are trying to carry on the legacy of our great receiver group last year,” Crawford said. “We’re trying to be the best that we can and work hard every day. I think everybody has put on good weight. We’ve just been trying to make up for lost time.”
Even if the unit will feature some fresh faces for the Neville faithful to get accustomed to, the unit isn’t lacking confidence. That’s because the offense, as a whole, is stacked. The only question mark revolves around wide receiver, and it’s players like Crawford who will quickly turn questions into positive answers.
“We feel like we have a really special group,” Crawford said. “Obviously our offensive line is one of the best we’ve had in a few years. The chemistry is at an all-time high. We have such a talented backfield. We have to work day in and day out so when we hit the field that can translate to the scoreboard.”
The new Oct. 8 starting date issued by the LHSAA gives Crawford and his fellow receivers more time to prepare for the upcoming season. With more than a month to go before actual games of consequences take place, staying motivated could become a challenge for most teams.
But that’s where players like Crawford become invaluable. Tannehill knows his wide receivers won’t become too relaxed under the new circumstances. Crawford is here to make sure of it too.
“I think the team as a whole has to find personal ways to motivate themselves,” Crawford said. “Obviously the workout schedule has changed. We’ve all been putting gin the work and doing the things we need to get ready. We’re ready to get started and put those pads on.”