Senior running back Justin Crawford has something heading into this season that he’s never had in his career up until this point – a structured off-season.
That’s likely not the best news for his opponents.
The Georgia native carried the ball only 163 times last year after coming over from the junior college ranks, but led the Mountaineers in rushing bypassing the 1,000-yard mark plateau on the way.
In 13 games, Crawford saw over 20 carries only three times as the West Virginia offense relied on four separate ball-carriers throughout the course of the season.
But in those three games, Crawford’s final yardage totals sat at 101, 331 and 209. That’s 641 of the 1,184 yards on the season or roughly 54-percent of the total on the season.
Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that Crawford averaged over seven yards per rush during his first year on campus. It was impressive enough that there was at least on the surface some speculative talk that Crawford would forego his final season and enter the NFL Draft, but he elected to return.
And now, he will have the benefit of an entire offseason to improve.
He’s already noticing the difference.
“I feel like I’ve progressed tremendously not only with my playing ability but being able to recognize the defense. Just being able to have that extra spring I didn’t have really helped me out,” he said.
The off-season goal for Crawford has been to become bigger, stronger and faster in his preparation for fall camp which will get underway in only a few short weeks. Now up to 205-pounds, which is his comfortable playing weight, Crawford has added a few notches to the belt but has focused more on maintaining his current state.
Given the fact that running backs are asked to do a variety of things in the West Virginia offense in both the passing and blocking departments as well as carrying the football, it is critical that Crawford is in the best shape he can be entering the season.
To aid in that he has the benefit of the West Virginia off-season program with weight lifting sessions as well as unheard of technology at the junior college level that can track his recovery and sleeping patterns.
The latter is one that might prove more difficult based on the fact he has two young sons, but he is putting his body in position to handle a bigger workload if called upon.
"You just want to go as hard as you can in the off-season," he said.
And likely for good reason.
West Virginia will have to replace departed senior Rushel Shell and his 113 carries as well as senior quarterback Skyler Howard which also toted the ball 142 times that means there will be some additional opportunities available for Crawford as well as sophomores Kennedy McKoy and Martell Pettaway.
“I’m progressing fairly-well,” he said.
But the progress is far from over and Crawford understands that.
“I just have to keep working,” he said.