PITTSBURGH — When Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Ryan Shazier suffered a spinal injury that ended his season and put his career and well being in jeopardy last December, it was a scary moment for many fans of the game.
The Steelers linebacker, formerly a collegiate national champion, an All-American, a first-round draft pick and a Pro Bowler, one of the most accomplished athletes in the country, laid helplessly on the field at Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium.
It was tough to watch, even for those at home. Shazier’s teammates took a knee and prayed on the sideline and were obviously shaken.
For Duquesne wide receiver Nehari Crawford, the reaction was far more visceral. Crawford had just finished an all-conference season as a junior with the Dukes. Crawford was watching the game — and watching No. 50 in white — with a keen interest. After all, Shazier is Crawford’s older cousin.
“It was crazy, I was watching the game,” Crawford recalled of the moment now nearly eight months past. “I just got quiet. I was about to cry, for real.”
Crawford’s season had ended three weeks previously with Duquesne’s 38-29 loss to Bryant. In between studying for his finals, he spent the next few weeks regularly visiting Shazier in the hospital.
Shazier has since regained the ability to walk, but his football career has not resumed. Crawford’s, on the other hand, has. He’s set to start his senior season this Saturday. Crawford admitted that it was “hard” the first time he strapped the pads back on and went to practice after watching his cousin’s ordeal.
“You feel like you gotta be cautious and go out there kinda tip-toeing, thinking ‘That could be me. I have to be careful,’” Crawford said, but he emphasized that he’s had to get past that point in order to feel like he can be himself on the field this season. “You’ve just got to put it aside and just go, because I feel like when you’re thinking too much, stuff happens.”
So while his cousin’s injury has affected him, Crawford is determined to press on and finish what he’s started at Duquesne.
“I decided that I’m dedicating my senior season to him,” Crawford said. “I got a No. 50 tattoo that says ‘Shalieve.’”
The thing that Crawford wants most out of his tribute season? A title.
“Conference championship, that’s the goal,” he said. “The personal stats, they’re not really a factor right now. I just want to go out a champion.”