Tae Crowder: Path to the NFL Draft
If you’re a team looking to fill a linebacker need in the NFL Draft with a hard-working, all-round talent, then look no further than Tae Crowder. His path to the NFL Draft has epitomised hard work and competitiveness. Born and raised in Georgia, he knows that working hard to find success on the football field means more than just fulfilling a dream.
“Where I’m from its kinda tough. There’s two ways you can go. The bad way, or the good way, and the good way was sports.”
Tae Crowder: Georgia Born and Raised
He chose the good way and put everything into making a life out of sports whilst never forgetting his roots. From Pine Mountain, through Harris County High School, and on to the University of Georgia, he’s spent his entire football journey in the state of Georgia. It’s something that he’s proud of and knows that it’s helped shape him both on and off the field.
“It taught me how to overcome adversity and just how to be a man. It made me a better person.”
The state of Georgia has produced some of the game’s biggest stars. There was no shortage of football inspiration for the young Tae Crowder. Some of that was closer to home than others. He found a love for football playing with family and watching one of his own make a success in football helped shape his journey.
“My cousin, Quan Bray, he was one of the first guys in our family to play for the University of Auburn. I grew up always looking up to him. From middle school, high school, I followed his whole journey. Then, someone who’s a legend in the NFL, Michael Vick, was another person that I looked up to and admired.”
Hard work breeds success at Harris High
Vick was famous for his athleticism from the quarterback position, and some of that clearly rubbed off on Tae Crowder. He spent his time at Harris High School playing running back and found success at the position, racking up 1665 yards and 27 touchdowns as a senior. He also received Second Team All-State accolades. Harris High was a winning school, and it was there where Tae Crowder realised that hard work could have its reward.
“We were a winning school. I’ll always remember the time we won our regional championship back to back to back. It was something we always looked forward to. You knew that when you didn’t really want to work out, you could come and work out because you’d get that special moment when you won the regional championship.”
Despite Harris High School having successful championship runs, and Tae Crowder shining on those teams, he didn’t receive a lot of love from the major recruiting sites. Most had him ranked as a 2/3* recruit, Despite not allowing it to distract him from his goal of playing college football, it did serve as motivation as he finished his high school career.
“Growing up, I always got attention, but I never got the publicity like you said about stars. I was never big into stars or stuff like that. I never really paid attention to that stuff. But, when it was time to play guys like Terry Godwin who was a 5* at high school, it was on! I took that as a challenge. We really looked forward to doing that. Anyone who was rated higher than us, we would always take that as a motivation to go out and play our best game.”
Wild recruiting ride for Tae Crowder
Although he’d only been a 2* recruit by some sites, there was plenty of interest in Tae Crowder and it resulted it a wild recruiting ride. The dramatic ending changed the course of his football journey.
“I was initially committed to Georgia Southern but my heart was always at the University of Kentucky. Just because it was bigger and I would still be able to play against Georgia, stuff like that. I always wanted to flip from Georgia Southern to Kentucky. Georgia ended up calling me late, just a few days before signing day. God was with me and I got the call from Coach Mark Richt. It was just like a dream come true from that day.”
The dream of playing in the red and black in front of 90,000 in Sanford Stadium would have to wait another year. Tae Crowder had to take a redshirt year in 2015, recovering from shoulder surgery. He describes it as an eye-opening experience, but one that made him realise the importance of hard work.
“I definitely think it benefited me. It was like two parts of who I was. In 2015 I wasn’t really doing right, on and off the field. Moving forward I started living better, practicing harder, doing little things, and taking school more seriously. It definitely helped me out for the future and showed me how to work and overcome adversity.”
Making the transition to linebacker
In the Georgia spring game of 2016, Tae Crowder showed he could contribute to the Bulldogs offense with two touchdowns. However, in a crowded running back room that included Sony Michel and Nick Chubb, there would be limited opportunity to get any game time. With his hard work on the practice field earning him the respect of the coaches, the suggestion of a switch to playing linebacker would again change the course of his football journey.
“I was pretty much fulltime scout team. I would say the fourth or fifth game of the season I started taking things seriously, started living better, I started working harder, and I feel like Coach Kirby Smart started noticing me, I started making a lot of plays, outstanding plays, where he saw “Dang! This kid maybe needs a chance on the field somewhere. That was kind of the conversation we had. I feel like he noticed that I was living better on and off the field, and he gave me a shot.”
“At the time when he first told me, I was just confused. I was like “Dang, really? Is he doing this just to say he gave me a chance?!” My head was everywhere. As I knew when he told me, I knew I wanted to take advantage of every opportunity that was thrown my way to get on the field.”
Hard work leads to special teams standout
One of the opportunities to get on the field early on for Georgia was on special teams. It was an opportunity that not only helped get him more game time as a Bulldog, but an experience that will look good on a footballing resume as he continues his football journey in the NFL.
“You’ve got to be willing to do what you gotta do for the team. You’ve gotta be a team player and that’s where special teams fits in, being a team player. I was always a team player. So, starting off on special teams, trying to make an impact any way I could. I knew the coaches saw that with the effort I gave and the willingness to get better each week, and I definitely saw myself getting better from that.”
Tae Crowder: Captain
The hard work and improvements paid off and Tae Crowder made his first career start at inside linebacker against Kentucky in 2018. That year he grabbed his first college football interception, and jointly led the team with two interceptions.
“It meant a lot. It just showed me that, “Dang! You’re hard work is paying off!”. You work so hard that you never know when your moment is going to come and, I was kinda confused like “Dang! I just caught a pick!” but you’ve gotta understand that you work for things like that. It was another dream come true. I was proud of myself. But, I knew it came from hard work.”
The reward for hard work has come in many forms for Tae Crowder. There was the first interception in 2018. Then in 2019 came his first college football touchdown, a fumble recovery against Tennessee. Georgia had the best defense in college football in 2019, the product of hard work from everyone on that team. During his time as a Bulldog they claimed three SEC East titles. He made the semi-finalist shortlist for the Butkus Award, given to the best linebacker in the nation. One of the biggest honours, however, was leading the team as a captain for the game against Missouri.
“I was always one of the guys that led by example. I always practiced hard, worked hard, never complained. It just showed me that the coaches noticed things I was doing, on and off the field, and it was special knowing that you worked so hard for times like that. It felt great.”
Solid statistics confirmed by tale of the tape
Tae Crowder leaves Georgia having racked up some impressive statistics from the linebacker position, most of them coming in just the last two seasons. He had 122 total tackles, 10 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two interceptions, five pass break ups, two forced fumbles and of course the fumble recovery for a touchdown from the game against Tennessee.
The statistics paint a picture of a complete, all-round, linebacker prospect and that is evidenced in the tape. He’s a playmaker with a competitive edge that never wants to lose. He points to one game that summarises everything that he can bring to the football field.
“I would say the Notre Dame game. I feel like I was flying around everywhere. Of course, there are multiple games that I love but I would say that game because it was a very hyped game.”
Combine snub adds motivation for Tae Crowder
Despite impressing in the last two years, and receiving attention from the likes of Jim Nagy, who says he expects to see Tae Crowder on an NFL roster next year, there was no invitation to the NFL Combine. It’s just another form of motivation and another reminder of the importance of continuing what he did to get to this point.
“It’s just another thing that I’ve got to use as motivation. You’ve just got to keep moving forward and keep working hard.”
With the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the usual NFL Draft process has been disrupted. In previous years, there would be Pro Days and individual team workouts and interviews but none of that can go ahead. It hasn’t stopped Tae Crowder from finding a way to get his name out there and show teams what he can do, sending out his own tape to teams. He’s been in touch with multiple teams, and although he didn’t want to divulge which teams, it seems that some interest is more intense than others.
“I keep up with certain teams each day, so I know who’s interested and who’s not.”
A dream come true
The NFL Draft is less than four weeks away, and the childhood dream of playing in the NFL is within touching distance for Tae Crowder. He’s spent his entire footballing career playing in the state of Georgia and grew up watching Michael Vick wow the world. What would it mean to get the call from the Falcons over the draft weekend?
“It’s the hometown team, someone we always grew up watching, especially when Michael Vick played for them. That would be pretty cool.”
Like every player who enters this process, however, the destination isn’t really as important as seeing their hard work and sacrifice pay off with a phone call from any of the 32 NFL teams.
“It would be a dream come true. It’d be a childhood dream. As a kid it was always something that I wanted to do. It’d be a blessing.”
OLIVER HODGKINSON IS A COLLEGE FOOTBALL WRITER FOR THE TOUCHDOWN. HE ALSO WRITES ON THE NFL FOR THE PRO FOOTBALL NETWORK. YOU CAN HEAR HIS OPINIONS ON ALL THINGS COLLEGE FOOTBALL AS ONE THIRD OF THE COLLEGE CHAPS PODCAST.
Photo Credit: Georgia Sports Communications
Huge thanks to Tae Crowder for taking the time to speak to us. Also to Case Donahue at IFA for connecting us.