Senior linebacker Franklin Crawford III '17 powered Tiger defense with big hits.
Story by Lucas Fahrer
It was business as usual for Franklin Crawford III ’17, but his big hit in Doane’s season opener is the kind that gets a rise out of folks.
On the field, in the stands, and over social media.
In Tiger Football’s first game of the season, a win over Friends (Kansas) University on Sept. 3, Frank made a statement. A loud one.
On Friends’ second possession of the game, the senior linebacker sprinted into the backfield unblocked with a clean angle on an unsuspecting ball carrier and flattened him onto the Al Papik Field turf for a six-yard loss.
Defensive back Tariq Mustafaa ’18 watched it all unfold. He was just as impressed by his teammate’s violent hit as the tailback’s ability to not fumble.
“I had a clear shot at him,” the junior says. “I was like ‘Oh my goodness. How did he hold onto that ball? I don’t understand.’”
Head Coach Matt Franzen ’94, standing on the sidelines, heard the crash.
“That play shows you his sheer power,” the 10th year coach says of Frank. “He’d come through the line and was basically making a play on the ball. He tackled the ball carrier violently and destroyed the blocker all in one play.”
After the Tigers finished off the 45-21 victory, Doane Athletics’ official Twitter account tweeted “Tackle of the game? Don’t let Frank through unblocked!” with a six-second video clip of the play. It garnered 44 retweets and 86 likes, showing Frank snuffing the play out in three seconds flat to the roar of the home crowd.
“I like contact a lot. I like hitting,” Frank says through a smile. “I love it.”
It was the kind of hit that can set the tone for an entire season, and that’s the mark the Dallas-area senior wants to make on this team: leaving nothing up to chance in search of a Great Plains Athletic Conference championship.
“We all want the same thing: A ring. We all know it takes sacrifice to get to it,” Frank says. “All the seniors are willing to do what we need to do to get there, regardless of what happens.”
The Mesquite, Texas, native won a starting job midway through his freshman season and hasn’t let go, quickly building a reputation as a big hitter.
He’s been an impact performer during the Tigers’ 9-2 season, which included a trip to the NAIA National Playoffs.
Roaming the perimeter from his inside linebacker spot, Frank finished the season second on the team in sacks (7.5), third in tackles for loss (11.5) and tied for eighth in tackles (31).
“He has a hard, hard head on the field,” Franzen says. “The biggest thing is his physicality, but he’s also got good speed and athleticism.”
Frank’s an enforcer. He’s been especially effective at blowing up plays behind the line of scrimmage, even after transitioning from defensive end to linebacker midway through his career. In the last two seasons combined (both at linebacker), his 19 tackles for loss have turned into more than 100 negative yards for opposing offenses.
The scouting report on the 6-foot, 220-pounder shows he’s fast enough to run past offensive linemen and big enough to outmuscle skill players in coverage or the open field. But power is his calling card.
“He’s definitely one of our harder hitters on defense. That’s pretty blatant,” Tariq says. “He’s got his instincts. When he sees something, he goes.”
It all comes from a lifetime of playing football. Frank’s been putting on pads ever since elementary school, and he’s never lost his passion for it. Growing up in the heart of Texas, football became a way of life.
“You’ve got your family, school and then football,” says Tariq, who grew up 15 minutes away from Mesquite in Cedar Hill, Texas.
In high school, Frank competed in Class 5A, the second-highest classification in the state. He’s one of several college football players to come out of Poteet High School; in his graduating class alone, seven players signed with NCAA Division I schools. Frank even played with Malik Jefferson, a 2015 All-Big 12 performer and freshman All-American at the University of Texas at Austin.
Football is his constant.
“In Texas, football is kind of like religion,” Frank says. “I’m one of those people, I was raised that once you do something, you stick with it. You don’t quit. Football became a part of me. It’s a stress reliever. That’s something I can go to if I’m down.”
He started mulling his own offers to play in college as a senior. A few schools in Texas recruited him, but when Doane coaches came to Poteet to visit with players, his interest shifted. A campus visit and conversation with Franzen swayed him to head north, but he was also looking for a change of scenery from inner-city Dallas.
“That was my big thing, one of my big ways to get out of Dallas,” Frank says. “I use sports as a vehicle.”
Frank has had to grow on and off the field since he arrived at Doane, adjusting from urban life in the Dallas suburbs to rural Nebraska. Before he could compete for the Tigers, he had to spend some time getting academically eligible. On the field, he was a self-proclaimed “hot head,” putting himself in some tense run-ins with opponents.
Over the years, though, Franzen watched a student-athlete take “leaps and bounds” forward.
“He’s really learned to keep his composure and harness his energy to help him play better,” Franzen says. “That’s part of growing up.”
His personal development has coincided with a rise to prominence for Tiger Football. Doane is 22-4 in its last 26 games—including a 7-4 mark against ranked teams—beginning with a four-game winning streak to end the 2014 season. The Tigers kept winning in 2015, finishing with the program’s best win total (9-2) since 1997 and making it to the first round of the NAIA playoffs. This year’s 9-1 regular season record had the team hosting its first playoff game since 1997 and ranked 7th nationally.
Frank’s been a starter for some of the program’s biggest moments in recent history. Upsetting No. 1 Morningside in November 2014. Making it to the playoffs for the first time since 1999. Finishing 2015 ranked in the NAIA’s Top 10 and climbing the polls to No. 3 in 2016.
“I credit our kids for sticking with the program and the leadership that we had on that 2014 team with that year’s seniors,” Franzen says of the program’s success. “That followed through to last season, but the leadership in this year’s group is every bit as strong as last year.”
Now Frank is part of that core.
“He’s a guy that plays on his emotion. He’s not afraid to trash talk a little bit. That’s part of who he is,” Franzen says. “For our team, that’s great. I think every team needs a few guys who’re going to push the envelope a little bit, and I think that makes our entire team a little more competitive.”
Frank plays inspired because he doesn’t forget where he came from. His parents, sister and grandparents are his biggest fans, and they host watch parties of Doane’s football webcasts back home in Dallas.
“I feel like I do it for them. They call me before every game, because they’re so far away they can’t be here, and wish me luck,” Frank says. “As soon as the game ends, they call me and say you did good and all this and that. I love it.”
When Commencement rolls around, Frank will become the first member of his family to graduate from college. He’s pursuing his bachelor’s in physical education with an emphasis in fitness management and a business minor, a blend of studies he hopes to turn into a career in teaching and coaching.
“I would love to coach. That would be great seeing how some of these coaches up here have helped me out and changed my life,” Frank says. “I would love to do that to help somebody else. You never know what somebody’s background could be, and that’d be great if I can help them pursue what they want to.”
But before he turns the calendar to 2017, his focus was on finishing strong with his teammates.
“You never get complacent. You’ve always got to be ready for more.”
Day by day and hit by hit.