'AC' Back In Form
CHAPEL HILL – Last year was one to forget for almost everyone around the North Carolina football program, especially Aaron Crawford.
In August, the junior nose tackle suffered a knee injury in fall camp that was only supposed to sideline him for up to four weeks. Some four months later, however, as the Tar Heels’ disappointing 2-9 season drew to a close, Crawford had played just seven snaps as he was never able to fully recover from his preseason setback.
“I was frustrated, it was probably the most testing part of my career,” Crawford said. “There were parts of the season where I thought I was going to be able to come back and I just, frankly, wasn’t ready. It wasn’t that they pushed me to go out there, I really believed I was ready to go out and my body just said no.”
Crawford was expected to be one of the team’s best defensive weapons after his sophomore campaign in 2017 saw the Ashburn, VA, native start in all 12 games and amass 29 tackles, 3.0 sacks and 5.0 tackles for loss. Unfortunately for him and UNC, Crawford was forced to watch from the sidelines as the Larry Fedora era came to an abysmal end.
As the new regime started taking shape beginning in late November, Crawford was simply focused on getting healthy. As discouraging as the previous five months had been, Crawford was never deterred his work ethic and commitment.
He remained focused and took advantage of the cold winter months to regain his mojo, both physically and mentally.
“We had a lot of time off this winter,” Crawford said. “I took that time to get my body back right and I feel healthy, I feel ready to go. Just coming off of it I feel a lot more energized and a lot more focused going into this last stretch.”
Finally feeling like his old self again, Crawford participated in all of spring practice and made it out without any new injury concerns. Offensive lineman Nick Polino, who’s competed against Crawford in practice for three years, knows better than most how important it is for this team to have him back on the field enjoying football again.
“He’s a strong, mean, nose tackle, which is what you want in there anchoring down the middle,” Polino said. “He plays hard and he’s been great. I’ve played a good amount of ball here and there's not many nose tackles like Aaron that you’ll see in this league.”
Having someone as experienced and talented as “AC,” as he’s often referred to by his teammates, at full strength again should make UNC’s defense that much better, especially when you consider some of the up-and-coming talent he has around him.
One of the breakout performers on the defense last season in Crawford’s absence was Trey Morrison, who finished fifth in the voting for ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year. And, while Morrison has only played a handful of snaps with Crawford also on the field, he recognizes just how important the veteran nose tackle is because of his physical abilities and leadership qualities.
“AC, he’s a monster on the line. He can get in the backfield easy, he can do a lot of good things, he’s fast off the ball. He’s really good,” Morrison said. “He’s a big leader. He’s always getting us motivated to go out there and work.”
With a new era of Carolina football just over three months away from its first game, Crawford is back healthy and ready to shine. If he can remain that way and play like he did in his first two seasons in Chapel Hill, the hardships he went through less than a year ago will be long forgotten.