By Beau Wicker
---- — A former Winamac High School and Franklin College star football player now has a national award named in his honor.
The Brad Crawford Defensive Back of the Year Award from USA Football News honors the nation’s best small-college defensive back for each season.
The award will be presented each winter to a player competing in the NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), Division II, Division III or NAIA levels.
“Brad Crawford’s credentials as an athlete and student were quite impressive. His accomplishments were above and beyond what we were looking for to be associated with this award,” said USA Football News President and CEO Dennis Wilson, pointing out that Franklin College is the only NCAA Division III institution to have a defensive back in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Crawford was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2000, after being honored into Franklin College’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1989. As a Grizzly from 1974-77, he was a three-time NAIA All-American and was the NAIA District 21 Player of the Year in 1976. He still holds school records for having nine interceptions during the 1975 season and totaling 25 career interceptions.
“This is a tremendous honor. I am surprised and deeply honored to be associated with the top players in small-college football,” said Crawford, a 1978 Franklin College alumnus. “This award also honors Franklin College and all of my former teammates. Any recognition that I received, and continue to receive, is because of the great teams and coach [Stewart ‘Red’ Faught] that I was fortunate to play with.”
Crawford continued during a recent interview, “I cherish the time that I spent with my teammates and coaches more than the passes I intercepted. I was fortunate to play with so many great teammates that helped me put up great statistics. Many players may receive back-to-back All-American status, but I was able to be named a first-team All-American during three of my four seasons.”
Away from the gridiron, Crawford was also a standout track athlete, helping lead Franklin to a third-place finish in the 1977 NAIA District 21 championships — accounting for 40 of the team’s 58 points. He showcased his athletic skills by winning the 100- and 200-yard dash races and the long jump field event, along with running a leg of the victorious 440-yard relay team. He still holds the NAIA national long jump record with a leap that covered 22 feet, 10¼ inches.
Crawford still faithfully follows the success of the Franklin football program and tries to attend at least one home football game each fall. After graduating from Franklin, he graduated from the Indiana University School of Dentistry in 1982 and has had a family dentistry practice in Winamac for the past 31 years.
Crawford recalls being on strong teams at Franklin that annually played bigger schools. He said Grizzlies went 8-2 his senior year, 8-2 his junior year and 7-2 his sophomore year.
He said the Grizzlies annually would play teams like Butler, Evansville, Georgetown, Ky., and Grand Valley State and would more than hold their own.
“We played people we probably shouldn’t have and we would compete,” Crawford said. “Red was a great coach. His quarterbacks would always rank 1, 2 or 3 in the nation in NAIA or D-III. It helped me a lot at my position. All we did was defend the pass every day. I learned how to cover receivers.”
Crawford said the Grizzlies never made the playoffs during his time because back then teams had to go undefeated or have just one loss to make the playoffs. But the Grizzlies were ranked many times.
One memorable game for Crawford was when his team beat Butler and quarterback Bill Lynch, who went on to coach at Butler, Ball St., Indiana and is now at DePauw.
“He was a double-sport guy and a good quarterback. We beat Butler really bad,” Crawford said.
Crawford is a 1974 grad of Winamac. He said football at Winamac was in its infancy when he was in high school.
“My freshman year was our first varsity team ever,” he said. “My brother was the quarterback on the first varsity team. Freshmen didn’t get to play varsity. I started my sophomore, junior and senior years.
“We played in the Northwest Hoosier Conference with North Judson, Knox, Twin Lakes, Rensselaer and Kankakee Valley. We played a lot of those schools for many, many years.”
Crawford said Bill Pugh was the Warriors’ first football coach.
“It was dive left, dive right, sweep left, sweep right. He had never heard of a pass. We beat a lot of teams just grinding it out,” Crawford said. “We had a lot of good individuals, a lot of farm boys that were strong and could compete with anybody.
“I was a halfback in high school. My speed carried me into college as a wide receiver.
Crawford, whose playing size in college was 5-10, 175 pounds, is from an athletic family. His cousin Shane Crawford won a state championship in the 100-meter dash for Winamac in 2007. He went on to win a Big Ten title in the event at Purdue and is continuing his track career as a professional. Crawford’s niece Kara Carreri went on to play basketball at Grand Valley St. His nephew Kyle Crawford went on to golf at Indianapolis.
Crawford has a stepdaughter, Alyssa Powers, 18, and daughter, Kelsey, 11, with his wife, Stephanie. He said he spends a lot of his free time now with travel softball with Kelsey as the sixth grader is on a top travel team for her age group.