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This Willie Crawford's Game Is Football

September 03, 1987|GARY KLEIN | Times Staff Writer

While many of his Beverly Hills High classmates traveled to far-away vacation spots this summer, Willie Crawford instead motored to various locations between Westwood and Century City as part of his job with a messenger service.

It was Crawford's job to deliver in the summer, and it will be his task to deliver in the fall.

The difference is that starting Sept. 11, Crawford will be asked to deliver for Beverly Hills High School, and his work place will be the football field.

Staying close to home--and the weight room--this summer allowed Crawford to prepare for the upcoming season, during which he is expected to be one of the top running backs in Southern California and the premier prep football player on the Westside.

"Anytime you look at running backs, you look for a player who has strength and the ability to do a number of different things," said Dick Lascola, who runs the Fallbrook-based Scouting Evaluation Assn. "You want someone who can go inside and outside, catch a pass, accelerate through the line of scrimmage and has the ability to not go down after the first hit.

"We think Crawford has those tools and the natural gifts that you look for."

A lot of other people think so, too.

Just about every college scouting service lists Crawford, the son of former major league baseball player Willie Crawford, among the top players in the nation. He has been projected as a running back, wide receiver and safety, and he has already been contacted by most of the major college football powers.

"Sometimes, even though you hear about how good a player is, you get out on the field and play against him and he turns out to be even better," said Santa Monica Coach Tebb Kusserow. "Crawford is like that. He's blessed with great speed and he's tough."

Last season as a junior, Crawford gained 1,151 yards and scored 16 touchdowns as Beverly Hills (8-2-1) tied Santa Monica for the Ocean League championship. It was the Normans' first league title since 1977.

Crawford, who was the league's player of the year, was also named an All-Southern Section linebacker.

"The most impressive thing about him is his durability," said Mira Costa Coach Herb Hinshe. "He makes an impact when he plays either offense or defense. I'm sure he's going to be a marked man in the upcoming season."

Crawford, at 6-1 and 197 pounds, is built like a compact version of New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor.

Off the field, Crawford is polite, articulate and easy-going. His laugh is hearty, his smile quick.

His attitude changes on the field.

"Before the game, when he's getting ready, you don't get near him," said Erez Gottlieb, who plays offensive tackle for the Normans. "He's crazy when he gets on the field.

"He runs kind of like Walter Payton. He knocks the hell out of people and explodes through them when they try to stop him."

Crawford has learned to live with inevitable comparisons to his father, who was a multisport star at Fremont High, received a $100,000 bonus for signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1964 and went on to play 14 years of professional baseball.

"It's hard in some ways, but in other ways it's not," Crawford said. "I feel lucky compared to most sons and daughters of professional athletes. By the time it was time for me to play in high school, my father was finished playing professional sports.

"It's nice to know that people remember him, but I have to concentrate on what I'm doing."

The younger Crawford played football, basketball and baseball his first two years at Beverly Hills, but decided to drop baseball last year.

"I feel I'm a better football player, so now I try to put most of my time into football," he said. "Coaches hate to hear you say it because they want you to play all sports, but football comes first right now."

Crawford's father didn't need as much convincing as the Beverly Hills coaching staff.

"You can't fight those kinds of things," the elder Crawford said. "He just has to be consistent with himself.

"He played Little League from the earliest age you could start. Then he got interested in basketball. Since he's been in high school, it's been football. I'm just hoping he can become the best player he can be and go as far as he can go."

Crawford's decision to forsake baseball was one of two major turning points in his high school career.

The first occurred during his sophomore year. Beverly Hills held a 10-7 lead over Hawthorne with just over a minute to play in the league-opener. Hawthorne had the ball when the Beverly Hills defensive line pressured the quarterback into throwing a pass that Crawford said looked like "a 20-yard punt."

Crawford settled under the ball for what looked to be a certain interception--and victory--for the Normans.

Crawford dropped the ball.

Hawthorne scored a touchdown a few plays later to win the game. Crawford was crushed.

The memory of his blunder lingered the entire year, despite a season that earned him second-team all-league honors.

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